When Washington lined up with 45 other states to receive its share of the $206 billion Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement in 1998, it received an extra $500 million. This "tobacco settlement bonus" is now being doled out to a few fortunate scientists in the state.
The Master Tobacco Settlement agreement won money for states to offset the Medicaid costs associated with smoking-related diseases. On top of that, bonus money was awarded to states in recognition for their efforts in organizing the settlement, and Washington received the largest reward. The state earmarked $350 million of the bonus to fund innovative health research projects in the state with the goals of improving the health of its citizens and spurring on the economy.
This week the stewards of this money, the Life Sciences Discovery Fund (LSDF), announced the first award recipients: five Washington-based scientists conducting basic science research into areas such as autoimmune diseases, cancer, and early brain development. It's a strange path that leads from smoking to science, but in these times of tight budgets at the National Institutes of Health, all scientists — even the well-established and successful ones receiving these awards — surely welcome this grant money. The LSDF will allocate the rest of the bonus over the next 10 years, and here's hoping they will do something innovative themselves by investing in promising scientists at the start of their careers, who suffer the most when federal science funding stagnates.