Three million dollars won't get you very far in biotechnology or any other kind of science. But as a way to start to gin up some fresh attention for Washington's $350 million Life Sciences Discovery Fund, the money has worked wonders.

The private donors who came up with the money were looking to prime the pump as the state awaits the first of ten $35 million annual injections--drawn from the state's annual tobacco settlement payout--it's making into the life sciences arena. But the fund is already up and running, scouting for public-private proposals to push research projects towards commercialization. The life sciences industry includes a lot of different kinds of technology, but biotechnology is "right in the middle," notes fund Executive Director Lee Huntsman. And if the fund can help lure some top scientific talent to the state, it will have gone far in achieving its mandate.

"With the right kind of state intervention here, biotech may just stage a comeback that would help show others the way forward."

In the second half of this year Huntsman's group will start taking applications, with awards being announced beginning in January of 2008. And Washington Governor Christine Gregoire expects that it can leverage its money by ginning at least twice that amount in fresh investments from public and private groups ranging from the NIH to venture capital firms.

Up until now, the state of Washington has done little to support its biotech companies. The biotech industry in Seattle has flagged even as some of its prestigious research institutions--such as the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center--have garnered big sums in research grants for some truly groundbreaking work. But with the right kind of state intervention here, biotech may just stage a comeback that would help show others the way forward.


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