Who would guess tobacco is making life better for us?

By the Tri-City HeraldNovember 28, 2012 

One of Gov. Chris Gregoire's legacies is taking on -- and beating -- the tobacco companies.

As attorney general, she won a Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement on behalf of our state. As governor, she established the Life Sciences Discovery Fund to put that money to work.

This fund may not be a conversation piece around most offices' proverbial water coolers, but the results of the investments will touch every person in this state and beyond.

The most overlooked point here comes from the lawsuit itself. Even without investing the funds, winning the lawsuit made tobacco companies admit what we all knew -- that smoking is bad for you.

Even smokers fully understand that fact. We all make choices, and smoking is one choice we certainly are well informed about.

By establishing something positive to do with the money, Gregoire has supported life-saving and life-extending measures that will help citizens.

At the same time, this fund gives the state's economy a boost and brings research dollars into Washington.

We're in favor of both.

The road to discoveries in the health field runs through a deep valley, where the sun seldom shines.

At the onset, there are government funds for someone who is developing an idea, and at the far end, there is private capital for someone who is close to market. In the middle, there's a drought.

We like that the Life Sciences Discovery Fund addresses this gap. We suspect that many good and viable ideas withered away in that dark middle ground.

We also like that the board is actively awarding grants year-round.

There are no deadlines to miss.

When a proposal is ready, it can be considered and (if successful) awarded immediately. This helps keep an idea's momentum going.

We also like that grants have been awarded on large and small scales across the state. Anyone with a good idea has a shot at sharing in the wealth.

Richard Smith of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory was awarded $4.8 million to develop new tools for using cellular markers to diagnose disease.

We're especially impressed with how much outside money these grants have attracted. For every dollar awarded by the Life Sciences Discovery Fund, Washington researchers have brought $8 in return, most of it from additional grants.

And we like that there is an escape hatch for the agency if a promising line of research doesn't pan out. Researchers negotiate milestones and timelines and are measured against them.

This gives the Life Sciences Discovery Fund board the ability to pull the plug when necessary and it gives the grantee an incentive to be productive with our money. (It's not money that comes from taxes, but it is money that belongs to the people of Washington.)

The state should be accountable to the public when it uses our money in any way. The Life Sciences Discovery Fund is an example of how to use that money wisely. It sets a smart precedent for other agencies in the state.

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