San Diego’s Biotech Leaders of Tomorrow: ‘We Are the Wildcatters’

2/27/13Follow @bvbigelow

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of Gen-Probe, and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s buyout of Amylin Pharmaceuticals.

Whether that’s good or bad, however, was a matter of some debate.

To Scott Forrest, vice president of business development at The Scripps Research Institute, the prevailing pattern of buyouts in San Diego contributes to a scarcity he sees in late-state commercialization of new therapeutics. San Diego’s drug startups seem to invariably get “sucked back to Indianapolis, or Groton, or wherever,” Forrest said. Many biotech founders elect to remain in San Diego to start new therapeutic companies. But he argued, “We’ve been a little challenged in San Diego” in terms of increasing the pool of leaders who have experience in late-stage commercialization the way that Genzyme has in Boston or Genentech has in the Bay Area.

Matt Dixon, director of business development at Advanced Proteomics, had a different view. “San Diego has done a great job of retaining and redeploying senior leadership and then matriculating junior leadership through the next generation of companies,” Dixon said. “My CEO Peter Klemm was the CEO of GeneOhm Sciences. Erik Holmlin, who was the scientific co-founder of GeneOhm Sciences, is now leading BioNano Genomics. Chris Hibberd out of Biocite is now leading Astute Medical. The previous CEOs who have had success stay here. Then they go on to the next success.”

Simpson later offered the analogy that Big Pharma is like Big Oil. “The premise is that Big Pharma will someday be like ExxonMobil, and own the pipes and infrastructure—and we are the wildcatters,” Simpson said. Seed-stage startups proliferate in San Diego, and we’re good at that here. “Some of them will hit, and some of them will hit hard,” Simpson said. “But why the hell would you build more pipes?”

Torrey Pines Mesa

“What uniquely positions San Diego is the fact that we have this great underlying core expertise in diagnostics, and basic, fundamental discovery,” said David Nelson, the CEO of Epic Sciences. “But we have enough of the pharmaceutical and therapeutics expertise—and we are geographically contiguous, so we can really drive that synergy. In the Bay Area, for example, it’s geographically so diverse that it’s hard to get a critical mass. L.A. is the same way. Where San Diego can really shine is in bringing all these great, diverse perspectives together to capitalize on the brave new world in healthcare, which is a combination of diagnostics and [therapeutics].”

Others agreed that it’s clear the industry is moving to “companion diagnostics,” with the idea of using genetic diagnostics to identify the most-effective therapy for treating specific types of cancer, inflammatory diseases, and other maladies.

“I’m a genomics guy and I think we’re going to see lots of genomics companies springing up here in the next decade,” said Todd Dickinson of BioNano Genomics. “But it’s all about getting to the clinic.”

“We’re winning in a lot of the areas that are favorable in terms of future dynamics—whether it’s algae, genomics, or diagnostics,” said former SkinMedica senior vice president Ted Ebel. “Ultimately, though, I think the question is what percentage of the value chain does that represent? Historically, diagnostics has not been a huge part of the value chain.”

One of San Diego’s core areas of expertise lies in the discovery and development of large molecule drugs, said Anaptys Bio CEO Hamza Suria. “Not from a medicinal chemistry perspective, but from a … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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