San Diego Biotech in 2030: A Center for Stem Cells, Genomics, Software, Neuroscience

4/2/10Follow @xconomy

The image of the double helix has captivated the public imagination for a long time. But biotechnology today actually requires what you might call a triple helix of money, people, and ideas, according to John Mendlein, the chairman of San Diego-based Fate Therapeutics.

All three ingredients were in one place Wednesday night for Xconomy’s event on the 20-year outlook for the San Diego life sciences industry. About 175 people packed a commons at Biogen Idec’s San Diego campus to hear a panel discussion that featured Mendlein, Paul Schimmel of The Scripps Research Institute, Dan Bradbury of Amylin Pharmaceuticals, and Rusty Gage of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

“We get to peer into the future,” Mendlein said in his opening remarks. “Everyone in this room is responsible for our collective future. It really is all in our hands.”

Yes, I know, it sounds like weighty stuff, and it is. But Mendlein reminded people not to take themselves too seriously with this crystal ball stuff: “If you have questions about the future, these three gentlemen have all the answers,” Mendlein deadpanned. “You can ask them what their company stock prices will be five years from now, or 10 years from now, or 20.”

Once these guys settled into a groove, they offered up a lot of fascinating insights. Here are some of the highlights, edited for length and clarity as always.

Paul Schimmel on why he left MIT in the late 1990s to come to Scripps:

“I had many wonderful years at MIT. It’s a big place. A great place. I was well-supported. But I wanted to go back to being a seed again. I wanted to go to a place that was smaller, that would support me, and in my case [that was] The Scripps Research Institute, where there was at least the illusion of a lot of resources. But where the structure was such that you could feel you were in a scientific playground, and could start from scratch again.”

“The difference for me between Cambridge and San Diego was, when I went to Cambridge, it was a different era, but many seeds had already grown. You were basically finding your way among all these trees and trying to get new trees established. Here, there were fewer big trees. In that sense, for me it opened up more creative possibilities. It forced me even to a greater extent, into self-reliance, and freedom of thought.”

Dan Bradbury on what the San Diego biotech scene looked like when he arrived to join Amylin in the mid-90s:

“San Diego at that point had two pretty major … Next Page »

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