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A Vision for Boosting the Life Sciences in San Diego and Beyond

Opinion

Xconomy San Diego — 

The life sciences industry represents a vital piece of San Diego’s innovation economy, contributing $31.8 billion each year in local economic impact—more than defense or even tourism, according to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.

Beyond our region, San Diego’s life sciences community is significant for a different reason: Our companies contribute novel healthcare innovations that improve life for people all over the world. We’re treating diseases, developing sustainable technologies for food and fuel production, enabling rapid diagnoses, and creating tools that help consumers to be proactive about their health.

The Biocom leadership team, along with more than 100 senior executives in our community, recently completed a 2020 strategic plan that answers the important question: How do we, as a business community, ensure that San Diego maintains and expands its leadership as a life science hub?

We identified a range of specific initiatives to help our life sciences companies expand regionally and compete better globally—taking into account things like emerging technology, the changing workforce, and the always-transforming healthcare market. Now Biocom is working with the City of San Diego and other stakeholders to achieve these goals by 2020. (A PDF of the 2020 strategic plan is available here.)

Based on the goals we’ve set out in our plan, here’s our vision of what San Diego will be in five years:

—The globally recognized leader in genomics. San Diego already has the basic elements to be the genomics capital of the world, starting with talent. Just think: We’ve got Eric Topol, Craig Venter, and Jay Flatley. I would argue that no other market in the world is home to such an impressive and visible genomics triumvirate.  These are people who’ve achieved the notoriety of the late Francis Crick and Gerald Edelman, Nobel Prize winners who were among the first to put San Diego on the genomics map. With greater collaboration among our key genomics players, our prominence will grow significantly in years to come. We already see it happening, as evidenced by the recent Guinness World Record designation bestowed on Dr. Stephen Kingsmore, president and CEO of Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine, for fastest-ever genetic diagnosis. He achieved the feat with help from two San Diego-based companies, with sequencing equipment from Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) and a data-crunching computer chip from startup Edico Genome—collaboration at its finest.

—The leading U.S. portal to Japan’s life sciences companies. San Diego’s direct flight to Tokyo, which began in 2013 thanks to Japan Airlines, helped pave the way for business deals that included Ajinomoto’s acquisition of San Diego’s Althea Technologies. Such deals have boosted Japan’s pharmaceutical presence in San Diego. In 2014, Biocom opened a satellite office in Tokyo, where it meets with companies and investors interested in San Diego’s talent and U.S. pharmaceutical industry ties. This is just the beginning of what’s becoming major synergy between the two markets. As more Asian companies do business here, the sector’s economic impact will grow, creating high-paying life science jobs and fueling industry expansion.

—Home of the world’s largest, most diverse CRO industry. Contract research organizations are essential to a thriving life science industry, as they speed discovery and clinical development of new products. With more biotech and pharma companies outsourcing, analysts predict hearty growth of the CRO industry through 2020—at a rate of up to 10 percent annually. San Diego, which is home to more than 85 CROs, is well-poised to capture this growth. With such CRO strength, Biocom expects San Diego to become more of a hub for clinical trials, thanks to its network of innovation-minded cancer centers and hospital systems.

—A cohesive Southern California life sciences market. San Diego’s success in fostering a thriving life science cluster has made it a gleaming example for many other U.S. cities—including our neighbor to the north, Los Angeles. Biocom has opened an office in Los Angeles, where we’re focusing on accelerating the growth of the region’s high-potential life science cluster. We went through this same process in San Diego 20 years ago, and are enthusiastic about the opportunities in Los Angeles. Working together by unifying the growth of the southern California life science community, we’ll become an even more competitive regional force on a national and global scale.

One Thing That Won’t Change: Our Culture

San Diego’s network of investors, research institutions and forward-thinking companies are what keep our life sciences sector churning. But for all of the amazing things that our market is, one thing we’re not is stuffy.

We hear from newcomers to our scene that San Diego provides a more collegial and collaborative environment than they’ve experienced in Boston, San Francisco, or anywhere else. We’re a casual but smart, hard-working community that’s not afraid to roll up our sleeves and tackle the hard science. It’s this culture that keeps life science leaders here in here in San Diego, where they continue to invest their time and money in solving some of the world’s greatest challenges.

Looking to 2020 and beyond, we see this rich culture of science and collaboration leading to an even more robust sector that will continue to attract the best minds and transformative ideas.

Joe Panetta heads Biocom, the Southern California association that advocates for more than 550 companies, service sector firms, universities and research institutes working in the life sciences. As president and CEO since 1999, Panetta works with a 60-member board and experienced professional staff, leading leads programs in capital formation, public policy, workforce education, and member services Follow @

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