SPOKANE, Wash. – Washington State University health sciences research has received a significant boost from the Health Sciences and Services Authority of Spokane County.
The HSSA awarded grants last week of $1.18 million to help recruit two highly successful researchers and fund critically needed laboratory equipment at the Spokane campus.

Catalysts for research, jobs

The two new faculty for the College of Pharmacy are expected to be catalysts for future growth at the WSU Health Sciences campus in Spokane that will result in a minimum of 130 new jobs in the local economy by 2020, estimated Gary M. Pollack, vice provost of WSU Health Sciences and Dean of the College of Pharmacy.

“We are extraordinarily fortunate to have HSSA as a partner in developing health sciences research capacity in Spokane,” Pollack said. “HSSA’s commitment will help us attract top talent and fund core laboratory infrastructure, both critical elements to serve as a nucleus to build upon for us to attract even more scientists,” he said.

“HSSA is pleased to announce that its commitment to growing health sciences research in Spokane is clearly represented by these awards, all of which will genuinely help catapult research capacity in our region and add jobs to our local economy,” said HSSA Board Chair Nancy L. Isserlis.

Scientist will lead new clinical pharmacology unit

Pollack authored three of the grant proposals and co-authored the fourth that were funded by the HSSA and has successfully recruited one of the two professors he wants to hire. He is in negotiations with the other.

Professor K. Michael Gibson, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Michigan Technological University, has agreed to lead a new section of clinical pharmacology in the WSU Division of Health Sciences, holding dual faculty appointments in the College of Pharmacy and an emerging medical sciences unit. HSSA’s contribution to the recruitment package will be $200,000 over two years.

Before joining Michigan Tech, Gibson spent four years as a professor of pediatrics, pathology and human genetics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Prior to that, he was a professor of molecular and medical genetics at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Ore., where he was also director of the biochemical genetics laboratory. He is a board-certified clinical biochemical geneticist.

Building drug development research

“Dr. Gibson is a high-end researcher who will bring his research program with him to Spokane,” Pollack said.
Gibson will bring significant value to Spokane in his ability to build a research-intensive unit focused on clinical/translational sciences, a crucial underpinning for drug development research.

He will recruit five new faculty into clinical pharmacology over a five-year period beginning immediately. At the end of five years, the unit will generate annual extramural funding of $5 million, will have 20 Ph.D.-seeking students, and will have a research staff of 45 scientists, a significant contribution to the area economy, Pollack said.

Researcher would head pharmaceutical sciences

Pollack is continuing to negotiate with Phillip Lazarus to chair the pharmaceutical sciences department, which will move from Pullman to Spokane in summer 2014. HSSA’s contribution to the recruitment package will be $500,000 over two years, pending finalization of the recruitment.

Lazarus is a professor in the departments of pharmacology and public health sciences at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine. He successfully developed a multi-million dollar center for pharmacogenetics in the Penn State Cancer Institute and serves as its director. He maintains a vigorous independent, federally funded research program.

Pollack said the College of Pharmacy growth model has Lazarus hiring 10 new faculty in the first five years. At the end of five years, he expects the pharmaceutical sciences department will generate $10 million in annual funding, have 40 Ph.D.-seeking students, and have a research staff of 75, another significant contribution to Spokane’s economy.

Equipment aids research, recruitment

HSSA also awarded funding to assist WSU with creating a microscopy core laboratory and a mass spectrometry core laboratory.
HSSA awarded $243,363 to purchase a laser scanning confocal microscope with a four-year service contract and technical support to meet current research requirements and projected needs of faculty recruits into the Division of Health Sciences. The capability of confocal microscopy is performing optical sectioning of thick biologic samples (tissues or cells) and three-dimensional reconstruction of images that are collected.

“We cannot attract first-tier life sciences researchers without a confocal microscope,” said Ken Roberts, director of the WWAMI medical education program in Spokane. “In fact, I lost one candidate I’d recruited because I couldn’t provide one. This type of equipment is no longer a luxury; it’s part of the standard research toolkit.”
WWAMI is a partnership between WSU and the University of Washington for educating new physicians.

Instrument considered “gold standard”

HSSA also awarded $234,500 for the mass spectrometry core laboratory, which is half the cost of the equipment.
It is considered the gold standard in drug and metabolite analysis, Pollack said, because of: its ability to detect drugs/metabolites at very low concentrations; its ability to distinguish a specific drug/metabolite from all other compounds in a biologic sample; and its speed, meaning a short turnaround time for results.

About WSU College of Pharmacy and WSU Health Sciences

The WSU College of Pharmacy is in the process of moving its Pullman facilities and people to the WSU Health Sciences campus in Spokane. More than half the college already is located in Spokane, a physical relocation that began when the doctor of pharmacy degree program moved its third year of professional study there in fall 2002.

The college currently graduates about 92 pharmacists each year, has a growing Ph.D. program in pharmaceutical sciences and is home to the WSU program in nutrition and exercise physiology, which offers both undergraduate completion degrees and graduate degrees.

WSU’s Spokane campus was proclaimed the university’s health sciences campus by the WSU Board of Regents in September 2010. The proclamation said the campus would move forward “…with a focus and commitment to grow graduate and professional education in the biomedical and health sciences, discover new knowledge through fundamental and translational research, and engage with people and communities throughout the region and the state to improve health in order to create a full-fledged research-intensive enterprise …”

WSU was a founding partner with the University of Washington in the five-state collaborative medical education program, WWAMI – for Washington Wyoming Alaska Montana Idaho. WWAMI is active on both Pullman and Spokane campuses.
A 2010 economic impact study found that continuing to build the Spokane campus as a research-intensive comprehensive academic health science campus would drive growth in the regional healthcare sector with an eventual statewide economic impact of $2.1 billion per year. Of that, $1.6 billion in economic impact would be felt in eastern Washington.

Gary M. Pollack has been dean of the WSU College of Pharmacy since August 2010 and was appointed vice provost of WSU Health Sciences beginning July 1, 2011.