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ISM hangs by a thread

The Institute for Systems Medicine has laid off all but one employee in a bid to keep the organization viable until new funding arrives and a scaled-down business plan can be implemented.

Tom Paine, a member of the Institute for Systems Medicine Planning Authority, said institute supporters believe development of an organization on the scale of the $170 million Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, an early model for the Spokane venture, will take more time than was hoped.

That, in retrospect, was a “moon shot,” he said.

In the interim, ISM will take an incremental approach to growth, he said, by taking on small research projects and building alliances. A U.S. Department of Defense grant to Washington State University professor Mike Skinner, a pioneer in the field of epigenetics, typifies the work ISM hopes to build on, said Paine, who manages government relations for Avista Corp.

“It’s kind of a scaled-down model,” he said.

Paine said ISM is looking at additional cooperation with WSU, Gonzaga University and other entities to identify new projects.

Dave Holmes, who until recently was an Avista-loaned executive at the Applied Sciences Laboratory, is the interim head of ISM. He replaces Lewis Rumpler, who took a position with another firm.

Paine said ASL, which has assembled a team of researchers specializing in high-tech materials and optics, will be the new model for ISM.

Holmes said the institute will get by on the resources at hand until officials decide how funds from a new Health Sciences and Services Authority should be allocated.

“We’re going to have to tighten up our belt,” said Holmes, who added that he expects to be at ISM only until a scientist with a bio-medical background can take over.

“It’s definitely temporary for me,” he said. “There’s a lot of top-notch scientists around here.”