By Joe Panetta
President/CEO, BIOCOMThe nature of San Diego’s life science community was evident to me recently as BIOCOM hosted three out-of-town venture capital firms for a day of company presentations and discussion. One of the VCs commented that such an event would not be likely to take place in San Francisco because that biotech hub does not possess the collaborative spirit and geographic concentration of companies that makes San Diego’s life science cluster unique.
That was good to hear. In the wake of Biogen-Idec closing its San Diego office, I’ve heard people question whether this cluster is making real progress. Biogen-Idec, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies, was founded in San Diego two decades ago as IDEC. It was IDEC that commercialized the blockbuster non-Hodgkin lymphoma drug Rituxin. IDEC made investments in a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Oceanside and an extensive campus in La Jolla.
In 2003, IDEC acquired Boston-based Biogen, turning over management of the combined companies to executives in Boston, who took little interest in San Diego. When this original Biogen-Idec management decision was made, and again, when Biogen-Idec pulled up stakes in San Diego, the life science community and its investors wondered whether San Diego was ever destined to never have an “anchor” multinational biotech company?
Those who judge this life science hub by the size of its companies are missing the mark. The VCs at the BIOCOM event made it clear that they have no interest in creating large companies. Their goal is to move promising biomedical inventions from research to development, while providing a return to their limited partners. The VCs see their role as funding the company to a point when larger entities, such as pharmaceutical companies, can take a product through the regulatory approval process and commercialization.
VCs tell me that they look to San Diego as an innovation center with a wealth of intellectual property and a seasoned talent base — the perfect mix for creating new companies. They say that relationships between universities, research institutes, big pharmaceutical companies, laboratory tool companies and contract research organizations — all of which exist here — are a strong foundation for current and future growth. As long as there are jobs created, potential new products advanced to benefit consumers, and a return on the investments made by VCs, I’m not convinced that this is a bad thing.