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Editorial: WSU scientific research gets in gear with Accelerator partnership

The minting of Washington State University research took a huge step forward Tuesday with the announcement of a new partnership with Seattle-based Accelerator Corp.

The agreement puts the university in the company of the prestigious Institute for Systems Biology and four other Seattle research centers and, also as of Tuesday, New York City-based institutions like Columbia and Rockefeller universities and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

That’s fast company, but a long time coming for WSU, which has struggled to bring its efforts to commercialize research up to the level of the research itself. And the timing could not be better for Spokane, where new laboratories and new faculty at the Riverpoint campus will soon generate more of the science that not only leads to better health, but more revenue to the university as that science is brought to market.

A 2010 study of a four-year medical school in Spokane – stay tuned – estimated a $1.6 billion payoff based partially on research spinoffs.

The agreement with Accelerator can make that happen sooner. The $51.1 million fund attached to Tuesday’s Accelerator announcement suggests why, but no money changes hands as part of the deal with WSU.

What Accelerator provides is a process that assesses research in its very early stages, identifies the best prospects, then supports the venture with lab space, managerial assistance, and money that – best case – results in a new company or product. In the 11 years since its founding, Accelerator has moved 12 biotech companies through those steps.

Its backers include Eli Lilly and Company and affiliates of Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

But WSU might not have positioned itself for the partnership without an internal overhaul of a commercialization program that dated to the 1930s. Progressive then, it had fallen behind the times. Last year, the foundation that had managed university intellectual property was folded back into the school.

Meanwhile, what is now the WSU Office of Commercialization under Director Sita Pappu was reaching out to the various colleges within the university, and to the branch campuses, to better inform faculty about its role and the opportunities.

Those start where those focusing on human health and biotechnology might not look first: agriculture, which remains the university’s biggest revenue producer.

Anson Fatland, WSU associate vice president for economic development, says Accelerator understands that nutrition and its components are critical to human health, and that animal health is a good proxy for measuring human health. The fit could not be better for WSU.

University researcher Michael Skinner, for example, is among the leading scientists warning that toxins like pesticides can affect human genes in ways that last for generations.

Fatland says the Accelerator partnership will help attract more scientists to WSU. It will also allow WSU and the other partners to share information, space and other resources to move their research along faster, a la the corporation’s name.

This agreement should make WSU, Accelerator and, eventually, Spokane faster, smarter and wealthier.


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