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Xconomist of the Week: Five Questions with Biocom CEO Joe Panetta

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within the investment sector. Don’t get me wrong, we have some top-shelf VCs here and our companies have a demonstrated ability to bring VC funding in from the Bay Area and other regions. In fact, Thomas McNerney Partners moved its West Coast office to San Diego from the Bay Area last spring. But we can always use more VC on the ground. In a similar context, we are lacking the presence of major investment banks. That’s my only concern.

Apart from the basic ingredients that I use to track how we’re doing, I’d say you need a diversity of companies—small and large biotechs and device companies, as well as companies in such emerging fields as personalized genomic medicine, stem cells, industrial biotech, biofuels, wireless health, and large pharmas. You also need service providers that can support the industry; collaboration across sectors; supportive local government that understands and addresses the needs of the industry and strong advocacy and networking organizations. With the emergence of virtual companies more recently, I’d say it also includes the presence of talented contract research organizations (CROs). Southern California has all of that.

Xconomy: So how is the life sciences industry doing in San Diego and Southern California?

JP: We are doing quite well. Early stage research is thriving, as evidenced by programs at the major universities. UC San Diego is launching a translational research program to build a more solid bridge into the life science community. UCSD also announced a recent partnership with Pfizer La Jolla. UC Irvine plays an integral role in the eye-care industry in Orange County, which is believed to have more medical device and pharmaceutical eye care companies than anywhere else in the world. San Diego State University has been named the top small research university in the country for two years running.

The region’s private research institutes are amassing competitive grant funding at a record rate, including the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, which recently opened a major RNAi research center supported by a $12.6 million NIH grant.

New company formation, which to me is a sign that innovation is being translated into companies and potential new products, was up in the first quarter of 2011 over the same quarter in 2010. San Diego gained biotech jobs in 2009, the most recent year in which data were collected, while the rest of the state lost jobs. Biocom membership is up by 75 companies this year. The last two PwC Money Tree reports on venture investment in Southern CA biotechs and device companies indicates growth from about $1.5 billion in the first half of 2010 to $1.6 billion in the first two quarters of 2011. San Diego also has three of the fastest growing device companies in the world—Volcano (NASDAQ: VOLC), Nuvasive (NASDAQ: NUVA), and CareFusion (NYSE: CFN). A reason to be even more optimistic is the evolution and diversity of technologies being developed here, including the new fields as wireless health, biofuels, and industrial biotechnology.

X: What are your priorities?

JP: In this year and next, my number one priority is to influence reform at FDA that moves the agency more toward an … Next Page »

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