Tacoma Weekly: "Biotech accelerator consortium tours Salish Cancer Center"

(Originally posted on August 17, 2016)

CUTTING EDGE. Medicine Creek Analytics Scientific Director Aaron Stancik (right) explains the workings of the lab to Dr. David Hirschberg, University of Washington-Tacoma (far right) as the rest of the tour group lis- ten in (from left): Alisa O&    Photo by Matt Nagle / The Tacoma Weekly

The Puyallup Tribe’s Salish Cancer Center and Puyallup Tribal Chairman Bill Sterud hosted a group tour of the center on July 22 with representatives from the City of Tacoma, University of Washington-Tacoma, MultiCare and Madigan Army Medical Center. The group is part of a consortium that has come together to grow the biotech field in Tacoma and bring together a number of local assets into a common lab space. The tour of the Cancer Center was given to show the group what the Salish Cancer Center is doing in the fields of cancer treatment and cannabis research at its state certified Medicine Creek Analytics lab.
Those invited to take the tour included Dr. David Hirschberg, University of Washington-Tacoma; Col. David McCune, M.D., Regional Health Command-Pacific; Dr. Paul J. Amoroso, Medical Director, Multicare Institute for Research and Innovation; Dr. Jack Keech, Medical Director for Oncology, Multicare; Roslyn Pierce, Manager of Oncology Research, Multicare; Pat Beard, Economic Development, City of Tacoma; and Alisa O’Hanlon, Government Relations, City of Tacoma. Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland was also invited but was unable to attend.
“It’s about creating lab space,” said O’Hanlon of plans for the Wedge Biotech Accelerator, noting that there are 155 biotech labs in the Puget Sound/Northwest area and just one in Tacoma. “We have a unique environment in Tacoma with Madigan and MultiCare in that they have a substantial patient data base with enough patient data to accelerate the research.”
The research would embrace numerous areas, ranging from water quality to health care and clinical trials and more.
The goal also is to create space where high school and college students could work and develop lab skills, particularly students at University of Washington-Tacoma.
“By leveraging the resources we have, we’re giving local residents an opportunity to work with scientists and military and medical researchers to develop companies, create new jobs and bring more prosperity to our community,” Beard said.
The City of Tacoma is considering buying a building to house the lab and federal grant requests have been filed. Right now the building known as the “Wedge” is being considered, two blocks down from the Swiss Restaurant and Pub. Tacoma City Council has unanimously voted to support the project with matching funds up to $500,000.

“This is about saving lives and being healthy and we have the best people here,”

Hirschberg was amazed at what’s happening at the Salish Cancer Center. “It was really eye opening,” he said. “I didn’t realize that there was that level of a medical facility in this area.”
Beard was impressed as well. “It was really fascinating how they combine so many disciplines in their cancer care,” she said, namely combining Chinese and Native American treatments with Western medicine.
“This is about saving lives and being healthy and we have the best people here,” Chairman Sterud told the visitors during the tour. He pointed out that the Puyallup Tribe is the first Indian tribe in the country to have secured a cannabis compact with its home state, as the Puyallup tribal leadership is taking a well thought-out and measured approach to getting involved in our state’s booming cannabis industry.
“Everything we do is totally transparent,” he said. “The WSLCB (Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board) is aware of everything we do. We’re being regulated in a very big way, which protects us as well.”
Having grown up in Tacoma and being away for 25 years, Hirschberg came to the University of Washington-Tacoma two years ago and has been on the lookout for resources like the cancer center.
“When I decided to come back to UWT, it’s been kind of a challenge finding assets in the area so finding an oncology center and state-of-the-art chemistry lab for marijuana is pretty exciting.”
Hirschberg said that right now he’s figuring out how to bring students into doing lab research earlier than they might normally get into this field of study, and plans for the Wedge Biotech Accelerator fit perfectly into his vision. So does partnership with the Salish Cancer Center and its cannabis lab.
“We want to do ambitious things there like clinical trials with Madigan and MultiCare…and get individuals inventing things there – students to tinker with their own experiments and work with others in the community.”
Interestingly, as Hirschberg pointed out, the Wedge building being looked at to house the Wedge Biotech Accelerator is in a brewery district and beer, cheese and bread are all part of the biotech spectrum.
“People don’t always think of that,” he said. “We look at yeast and the malting processes with chemistry and biology… If I can go to schools and talk to students about food, I can take them and train them to do genetic engineering and things like that to produce tools that are useful.”
In a video presentation created as part of a grant request for the Small Business Administration, MultiCare’s Amoroso said he was immediately excited when he heard about the Wedge project.
“I knew that it made a lot of sense and was very much in the pathway of what we’re trying to do – it’s part of our growth path. Suddenly there was this opportunity to bring this all together, for us to work together and create the nexus that would allow some incubation of ideas, which are plentiful in the area. We just haven’t been able to execute on bringing them to the fruition that they deserve.”
Strickland said the project provides a great opportunity for a diverse array of students to get into the biotech field.
“In Tacoma, we have a very diverse population and we want to make sure our economy is inclusive of all people. With the rich blue-collar history and a culturally and ethnically diverse population, we want to make sure that everyone can be part of this fantastic idea.”

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