What Drives Brook Byers Crazy & More Lessons On Innovation from the QB3/BayBio Event

6/30/10Follow @xconomy

Brook Byers got a little animated last night. Speaking in a packed auditorium that bears his name on UCSF’s Mission Bay campus, the famed venture capitalist rhapsodized about the scientific wonders around him, and how the university has created an entrepreneurial culture to translate discoveries into real-world products and businesses.

It was all upbeat until Byers’ conversation turned to President Obama, the FDA, and the mainstream media, including the New York Times.

One example of what Byers called his “angst” came just last Sunday. A story in Sunday’s New York Times about the revival of business incubators on university campuses mentioned the usual suspects like MIT and Stanford, and even lesser-known places the University of Utah. It devoted not a word to the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), which has helped spawned more than two dozen startups over the past few years in what’s becoming a new hub for biotech in San Francisco’s Mission Bay district.

“This sort of thing has been going on here for years,” Byers said. “It kind of drives me crazy.”

As a journalist, my answer is for innovators to tell more of their stories if they really want to raise awareness and build support for their work. Last night, the first-ever cooperative event between QB3 and BayBio, the northern California trade group for life sciences companies, offered plenty of interesting material for the Times or anybody else who’s curious to learn more about the tricky business of forming partnerships between academia and private industry. The event was moderated by QB3 director Reg Kelly (who I profiled recently), and BayBio CEO Gail Maderis (who wrote an op-ed here recently).

Kelly and Maderis posed some sharp questions to Byers, the partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, as well as UCSF chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, and Uwe Schoenbeck, who oversees external R&D for Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker. The speakers were asked about how academia and industry can do a better job of working together to come up with valuable drugs, devices, and diagnostics that help patients. This was a candid dialogue about some real challenges in life sciences innovation. I took a ton of notes, and here are some of the highlights.

Brook Byers on how UCSF is doing at translating basic science into the business world:

“There has to be an entrepreneurial culture. It has to be considered OK on campus to do this thing, to collaborate with industry. Twenty years ago, there was some hesitancy. That’s gone now. You’d be surprised though how it still happens in many places.”

Byers on the biggest opportunities he sees in the future of biology:

Byers singled out what he called “multi-scale biology” in which scientists … Next Page »

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