by Suzanne Schreiner & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he Washington Senate may soon decide whether to pass a funding mechanism that could provide significant dollars for Spokane's fledgling Institute for Systems Medicine (ISM). The bill would allow one county in the state to form a Health Sciences and Services Authority (HSSA) to pursue economic development based on bioscience. The authority would re-route county sales taxes that would normally go into the state coffers in Olympia back to the originating county.

The sponsor, state Rep. Don Barlow (D-Spokane), says the public-private partnership "could eventually lead to the discovery and perfection of new therapies and procedures to battle diseases that stymie us today. Furthermore, this is exactly the sort of program we'd better champion if we expect to win the brains race for economic development in this new century."

Last Friday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee sent the bill to a vote of the full Senate. Earlier in the session, the state House also approved a version of the legislation (H.B. 1705) by a vote of 68-29.

The bill does have limits. It allows only counties with fewer than a million people to apply to create an HSSA. And even though the bill was written with Spokane County in mind, any county in the state could apply. It would also require counties to supplement public funds with private resources and contributions.

"It's clear that not every county is going to be eligible," says Lewis Rumpler, the chief operating officer of ISM. "We are probably going to be very competitive for this, and my hope is that at the end of the day we will prevail."

Of Spokane County's 8-plus-percent sales tax, which differs from city to city, 6.5 percent goes to the state. This bill would hold back 0.015 percent of the Olympia-bound tax money in Spokane County. "It's money generated in Spokane, which comes back to us," says Rumpler.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & s the legislation stood earlier this week, the funding would provide about $1.3 million for an HSSA. That's short of the $6.5 million per year ISM supporters projected earlier in their funding estimates. While the final figures are being hammered out in Olympia, ISM is seeking a total of $110 million for its first five years from a variety of sources, including $25 million from the Life Science Discovery Fund Authority, $20 million in federal support, $15 million in private donor support, $15 million in foundation support and $5 million in corporate donor and partner support. ISM has announced that its founding partners -- Washington State University, Gonzaga, Empire Health Services and Providence Health Care -- are providing money for another year, to the tune of $480,000. In addition, John Stone, chair of the ISM planning authority, recently announced the first $1 million in private donor pledges, which he says demonstrates the local commitment to the biomedical research institute.

The new HSSA would provide funds not only for ISM but also for Project Access, a network of 800 physicians and area hospitals coordinated by the Spokane County Medical Society that serves low-income, uninsured residents of Spokane County. Rumpler says the Board of Trustees for the authority will decide how to apportion the money between ISM and Project Access based on proposals submitted by each organization.

ISM will be doing science by 2008, Rumpler says, and that requires scientists. Originally, the institute's strategy was to pursue big-name researchers (and their grant money), who would in turn draw other scientists. But Rumpler says until fundraising is further along, ISM will target more junior researchers who might hold joint appointments at ISM and WSU Spokane, where 20 new seats have been proposed for first-year med students as an expansion of WWAMI, the UW School of Medicine's regional medical education program.

Dennis Dyck, vice chancellor for research at WSU Spokane, says, "I think there is potential [for collaboration]." He points to the successful relationship between the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle and the UW School of Medicine as an example that could serve as a guide.

What needs to be in place, Dyck says, is an affiliate agreement between ISM and WSU that would spell out how shared appointments will work. Dyck cautions that for such shared appointments to work, faculty who are recruited to teach in the WWAMI program would need to be engaged in research that would also be of interest to ISM.

If the legislature signs off on the proposed first-year medical program in Spokane, classes would begin in the fall of 2008, which Dyck says means that faculty would have to be in place by this fall.

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