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Out Standing In Their Field

Out Standing In Their Field

Sadler Ranch in Diamond Valley, NV, supports about 500 cattle. About 200 belong to the ranch's owners, neuroscientist (and vegetarian) Ted Yednock and his partner Doug Frazer.

Courtesy Ted Yednock

Move It Along

Move It Along

Sadler Ranch hands round up some of the ranch's 500 cattle. Photo courtesy Ted Yednock.

Branding Day, 2013

Branding Day, 2013

Sadler Ranch hands prepare to brand some of the ranch's cattle. Courtesy Ted Yednock.

Sadler Ranch and Diamond Valley, USGS aerial photo 1954

Sadler Ranch and Diamond Valley, USGS aerial photo 1954

Sadler Ranch's Shipley Hot Springs is at the heart of a big water-rights dispute. The springs are on the west side of the valley, left, and flow east.

Courtesy Ted Yednock

Sadler Ranch, Circa 1920

Sadler Ranch, Circa 1920

An historic winter view of Sadler Ranch, seen from the west, with runoff from Shipley Hot Springs, bottom, going east toward the dry "playa" lake bed.

Sadler family photo, courtesy Ted Yednock

Sadler Ranch, 2013

Sadler Ranch, 2013

The same view of Shipley Hot Springs, foreground, and the playa in the distance.

Courtesy Ted Yednock

Shipley Hot Springs, 2013

Shipley Hot Springs, 2013

Despite diminished flow, the springs still create a three-acre lake on Sadler Ranch.

Courtesy Ted Yednock

Shipley Hot Springs, Winter 2014

Shipley Hot Springs, Winter 2014

Despite diminished flow, the springs still create a three-acre lake on Sadler Ranch.

Courtesy Ted Yednock

Fields in Southern Diamond Valley

Fields in Southern Diamond Valley

Farmers in the southern Diamond Valley grow alfalfa and other feed grasses with water pumped from the valley's aquifer.

Courtesy Ted Yednock

Alfalfa Field, Sadler Ranch

Alfalfa Field, Sadler Ranch

Sadler Ranch grows alfalfa, as well.

Courtesy Ted Yednock

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

Migrating birds use the meadow created by Shipley Hot Springs.

Courtesy Ted Yednock.

Sadler Ranch

Sadler Ranch

A portion of Sadler Ranch where spring water once reached, according to the ranch owners.

Courtesy Ted Yednock

Lightning strike, Diamond Valley

Lightning strike, Diamond Valley

Courtesy Ted Yednock

Yednock On The Ranch

Yednock On The Ranch

Annexon Biosciences CSO Ted Yednock on Sadler Ranch in Diamond Valley, NV, which he and his partner bought in 2012.

Courtesy Ted Yednock

The Bella Vista Ranch & Cattle Co.

The Bella Vista Ranch & Cattle Co.

Some of the 30-odd cattle at Bella Vista, run by "chief cowboy" Brad Vale, the recently retired head of J&J's venture group.

Courtesy Brad Vale

Corey Goodman and Marcia Barinaga

Corey Goodman and Marcia Barinaga

Serial entrepreneur and VenBio partner Goodman and his wife Barinaga bought their Marin County, CA, ranch in 2001. They recently bequeathed it to a local land trust.

Photo by Paolo Vescia, courtesy of Marin Agricultural Land Trust

Bring Them Baaaack Home

Bring Them Baaaack Home

On Barinaga Ranch in west Marin County, CA, Big Otis helps herd the sheep as fog covers the valley below.

Photo: Paige Green

Katrina and Lamb

Katrina and Lamb

A Barinaga Ranch ewe and her lamb graze above Tomales Bay and, in the distance, the Pacific Ocean.

Courtesy Barinaga Ranch

Ewe With a View

Ewe With a View

A Barinaga Ranch ewe with lambs on a hillside overlooking Tomales Bay.

Courtesy Barinaga Ranch

Xconomy National — 

[Corrected 7/8/15, 3:48pm. See below.] Some people who’ve made it big in biotech drive fast cars. Some take outlandish vacations. Some don’t take any vacations at all. (I’m sure you know the type.) But for a few San Francisco Bay Area biotech veterans, the reward for a long, successful career is the chance to swap suits and lab coats for cowboy boots and spurs (or at least muck boots and baseball caps) and to get their hands dirty raising cattle and sheep in the ever-drier West.

While the views and sunsets can be a reward unto themselves, it’s no dude ranch escape. In addition to the animal husbandry, pasture management, and other business considerations, they’re learning hard lessons about the rest of the world’s regard for their scientific arguments.

If you know about multiple sclerosis, you probably know about natalizumab—branded Tysabri—which about a decade ago was a big step forward in treating the vexing neurological disease. It garnered a lot of attention because, despite increasing the risk of a deadly brain infection, patients clamored for it, and the FDA listened. It was at the time a big win for the patient-advocacy movement.

Natalizumab was also a win for Ted Yednock. A neuroscientist trained at the University of California, San Francisco, Yednock’s work at Athena Neurosciences led to the drug’s development and eventually its approval in the U.S. in 2004, after Athena became part of Elan Pharmaceuticals.

The brain infection, caused by a virus that would normally lie dormant, actually forced the drug off the market soon after its approval. Yednock and colleagues at Elan and Biogen, which co-owned natalizumab at the time, dug into the problem. They eventually produced a diagnostic test that Biogen has used to help patients and doctors better weigh natalizumab’s risks. Natalizumab generated nearly $2 billion in revenue for Biogen last year. (It was approved for Crohn’s disease in 2008.)

During his time at Athena and Elan, where he rose to become executive VP in charge of global research, Yednock had a hand in other drug programs, as well, including the Alzheimer’s treatment bapineuzumab. Elan is no more, sold off in pieces over several years. After a few years as a consultant, Yednock recently rejoined the startup world as chief scientific officer of Annexon Biosciences in Redwood City, CA.

Yednock also now owns a cattle ranch. He and his partner Doug Frazer, who earned a degree in soil science from U.C. Berkeley, in 2012 bought the 5,000-acre Sadler Ranch in Nevada’s Diamond Valley, close to the state’s geographical center.

Much of the valley is covered by a “playa”—a dry alkali bed that’s about as amenable to raising livestock and crops as the surface of the moon. Unless there are springs and aquifers. And in Diamond Valley, there are plenty. Or there were, which brings us to Yednock, and what his biotech background can—and can’t—help him with in his second life as a rancher.

The largest spring in Diamond Valley is Shipley Hot Springs, on the Sadler Ranch property, which let generations of owners—mainly descendants of Nevada governor Reinhold Sadler, who bought the property in 1880—raise cattle and grow alfalfa. The spring, which flows out of the ground at 106 degrees Fahrenheit, once fed over 2000 acres and created meadows and lakes. [A previous version of this story misstated the estimated number of acres fed by the spring.]

But state grants of water rights in the 1960s allowed for farmers at the south end of the valley, about 30 miles from Sadler Ranch, to pump water from the underground aquifer faster than the region’s rains and snowmelt could replenish it. Two generations on, says Yednock, many outlying springs in the valley have dried up, the land is sinking, and Shipley is now flowing at one-tenth the historical level. “The former owners of our ranch couldn’t sustain a business,” says Yednock.

The diminished flow is part of a dossier of documentation and calculations that Yednock and Frazer have assembled for a legal case they’ve brought to reclaim more of the valley’s water. Everyone acknowledges there already isn’t enough water to go around. Now Yednock and Frazer’s actions have put them at odds with the farmers in the southern part of the valley, who immediately protested three years ago when the newcomers applied to pump far more water than what was flowing out of the spring.

That protest led to a hearing with the state water engineer. Last year, the engineer issued his ruling: Sadler Ranch could pump a fraction of what Yednock and Frazer wanted, but he left the larger issue of water rights to the courts.

“We applied as much intellectual force as we could, in terms of understanding past water flow, using diaries, old photos and court documents, and satellite images,” says Yednock. “We have a beautiful case. I made a spectacular PowerPoint presentation.”

He says that with a little laugh, but things are indeed serious. The issue is now before … Next Page »

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