Duane Roth: The Connector Who Wired Up a Regional Innovation Economy
(Page 2 of 6)
commercialize oxygen-carrying perfluorochemicals as a way to supplement ventilation for patients in acute respiratory distress. He served as chairman and CEO of Alliance Pharmaceutical, but the public company was unable to win FDA approval for its LiquiVent and Oxygent products. By 2004, Roth was unwinding the business when he was approached to take over Connect, and Alliance eventually licensed its technology to PFC Development Corp. of Thousand Oaks, CA.
“Initially, he played from his strengths” in the life sciences industry, said Mary Walshok, a sociologist and the associate vice chancellor for public programs at UC San Diego. “But he broadened his relationships over time, because his role required him to. He became less of a biotech guy, and more of an innovation guy as time went on.”
Connect was founded in 1985 as a UCSD program under Walshok’s purview. It was a time when San Diego’s scientific community was isolated from the business community, and scientists showed little zeal for starting new companies. Walshok said Connect’s initial mission was to bring the worlds of elite scientists and entrepreneurs together.
The innovation community here faced a wholly different challenge when Roth took over Connect near the end of 2004. It was a post-Internet, post-human genome world—and Connect was a pale imitation of what it had been during the 1990s.
“Connect was basically bankrupt when he took over,” said David Hale, the veteran biotech industry executive and Connect board member who talked Roth into taking the job. “Through his sheer persistence and vision and commitment, and with help from the [Connect] board, we brought Connect back to be a very significant and important organization in the community—to support innovation in San Diego.”
Connect was nearly extinguished by the university that had helped to create it. In the years before Roth was named to lead Connect, then-UCSD Chancellor Robert Dynes had decided that Connect should work to benefit UCSD more directly. The problem with Dynes’ directive, Roth’s predecessor told me at the time, was that Connect’s funding came entirely from the San Diego business community. The group lost its relevance, and then it lost … Next Page »