Leaders accelerate drive to boost biotech in Los Angeles at summit

February 27, 2015

Contact: Eddie North-Hager at 213-740-9335 or edwardnh@usc.edu

Los Angeles policymakers and educational leaders called for a concerted strategy and broad-based support to build the region’s biotechnology future at a summit Thursday.

The Los Angeles Biotech Summit drew leaders from business, academia and government to the USC Health Sciences Campus in east Los Angeles to discuss ways to build the industry in Los Angeles County, spurring job creation. Panel topics included job creation through start-up companies and economic, education and workforce development.

“What Silicon Valley brought to computer technology, Los Angeles can bring to biotechnology: a thriving environment of innovations encompassing academic institutions, training centers, companies and communities throughout the county,” USC President C. L. Max Nikias told summit participants.

Nikias laid out the stark challenge before Los Angeles leaders: San Francisco leads the nation in biotech investment, attracting $1 billion in 2014, while Los Angeles drew only $45 million — ranking 14th in the nation. That places the region well behind the other California biotech hotbed of San Diego, which stands at No. 3.

“What makes this puzzling is that Los Angeles universities produce over 5,000 graduates in the sciences, engineering and technology — more than San Francisco and San Diego combined,” Nikias said. “Many of our city’s graduates head off to these two other metropolitan areas for better employment options. We simply can no longer afford this massive brain drain from L.A. County.

“We must make this our moment for the benefit of all county citizens.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis recently met with Nikias to discuss their shared vision. At the summit, she called on Nikias to continue USC’s leadership in supporting biotech and said the county stands behind movement to accelerate growth in the industry.

“You have the right elements here, President Nikias,” Solis said. “It is about gathering us together.”

L. A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stressed that the Los Angeles area needs to leverage innovations that are already being created in the region — and there are many. He also noted that the county recently formed a task force to create a master plan on biotech.

Los Angeles city officials also joined in calls for growth.

“The synergy has been put forth here today,” Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar said. “Mayor [Eric] Garcetti and I are excited about these prospects.”

Huizar noted the motion he introduced at a Los Angeles City Council meeting in November 2014 to encourage investment in an Eastside corridor through El Sereno and Boyle Heights that includes the USC Health Sciences Campus.

The corridor would build on the intellectual, medical and community assets of the Keck School of Medicine of USC, LAC+USC Medical Center and local pharmaceutical firms. USC plans to spark this corridor’s growth by building a biotech park in the area.

“The city and county can count on many institutions besides USC to participate in this noble cause, including Caltech, East Los Angeles College, Los Angeles Trade Tech, the LAUSD [Los Angeles Unified School District] and Cal State L.A.,” Nikias told attendees.

Participants also included Nelson Rising, who led San Francisco’s Mission Bay development, which is considered a gold standard in biotech parks.  Other panelists included Bill Allen of the Los Angeles Economic Development Council, David Meyer of the Los Angeles BioMedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, East Los Angeles College President Marvin Martinez, and Elmy Bermejo, regional representative for U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez.

“At its core, biotech harnesses the components of life to create new compounds, products, and processes to enhance life,” Nikias concluded. “By harnessing the potential of the biotech industry, we can also infuse new life into our neighborhoods, our city, and our county.”