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Originally published Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 9:19 PM

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WSU recruits geneticists in new research venture

In a bold research and job-creation effort, Washington State University-Spokane is launching a $15 million research enterprise that will bring 135 pharmaceutical scientists to the school.

The Spokesman-Review

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Washington State University is recruiting two genetics researchers to its Spokane campus to launch a $15 million enterprise that will add 135 pharmaceutical scientists.

It's a bold research and job creation that relies, in part, on leveraging a $1.2 million investment of local tax dollars with federal, state and private funds.

"These are people and projects that can be a real catalyst for Spokane," said Susan Ashe, acting executive director of the Health Sciences & Services Authority of Spokane County.

Called the HSSA, the authority was established several years ago to capture a sliver of the local-option sales taxes collected in the Spokane area to help pay for projects designed to create a thriving research cluster here.

If successful, the projects will turn into either sustained research facilities that create jobs, or they will produce ideas or goods that can be commercialized.

Philip Lazarus, a professor and researcher at Penn State University's College of Medicine, has been offered a position to erect a new academic and research program at WSU, a rare opportunity that WSU is dangling as a recruitment tool along with a generous financial package.

The authority is contributing $500,000 over two years to help bring Lazarus to Spokane and set up his program.

"This is pretty exciting stuff. An opportunity in academic research to really create something with your stamp on it," said Gary Pollack, WSU vice provost for health sciences.

Lazarus would work as WSU's chairman of pharmaceutical sciences at the Spokane campus starting in 2014.

His area of expertise is molecular genetics. Specifically, Lazarus is interested in pharmacogenomics. He would bring his independent, federally funded research with him.

It focuses on the genetic background of diseases, in particular it examines how a person's own genetic composition affects how that person responds to any certain drug.

"There has been just a tremendous amount of interest in what we call 'personalized medicine,' " Pollack said. "If you know someone's genetic background you can predict their acceptance of a certain drug. It allows us to pick the right drug, at the right dose, and choose the right route to maximize its effectiveness and get to the desired outcome."

Pollack already has hired Michael Gibson, a professor at Michigan Technological University and chairman of its biological-sciences department, to come to WSU-Spokane.

His focus will be kick-starting drug-development research called clinical translational sciences.

The authority also provided grants for laboratory equipment for its Spokane campus.

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