San Diego’s Biocom opens LA office

Areas look for mutual benefit as San Diego exports biotech expertise to its big brother

By Bradley J. Fikes, The San Diego Union Tribune

Hoping to bring the region’s life science savvy to Los Angeles, the San Diego-based trade group Biocom has opened an office in the downtown heart of its northern neighbor.

The new site provides a closer nexus for Biocom’s efforts to help the Los Angeles area organize its talent-rich but sprawling biomedical industry, said Joe Panetta, the group’s president and chief executive.

Los Angeles city, county and academic leaders have said over the years that homegrown life science companies often leave for San Diego or the Bay Area — seeking the advantages offered by a major biotech hub. In July, for example, University of Southern California Provost Michael Quick cited that challenge as a prime reason the school was trying to establish a direct research presence in San Diego.

Panetta said San Diego brings decades of expertise in translating research into new biomedical firms, entrepreneurs to run them and a network of service providers that these businesses can rely on, including specialized law firms and contract research organizations.

Most of all, he said, Los Angeles can benefit from the biomedical prowess of San Diego, one of the most recognized life science clusters in the world. The San Diego region is generally ranked in the top tier of U.S. biotech hubs, along with the Boston and San Francisco regions.

For its part, Los Angeles provides strengths that can further boost San Diego’s biomedical profile, said Dina Lozofsky, executive director of the new office.

Los Angeles is a significant player in global trade, with easy international access through its airport, she said. “We have people who come to Los Angeles from all over the world to do business with us,” Lozofsky said.

The city also is home to prestigious scientific centers such as UCLA, USC, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and City of Hope, she said.

“All of these research institutes are churning out wonderful technology and wonderful talent that doesn’t always have a place to go,” she said.

Lozofsky previously worked as UC Santa Barbara’s associate director for licensing and business development, in the university’s Office of Technology and Industry Alliances.

Biocom’s latest office stems from a report commissioned by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to outline what’s needed to develop a successful biotech cluster in the area, Panetta said.

“We were asked to go there and participate as advisers,” he said. “On a separate front, we decided to take the leap and open an office and hire an executive director because we think there’s an enormous opportunity to bring together the life-science community down here in San Diego and the life science community up in L.A.”

The new Biocom office is at 444 S. Flower St., Suite 1780. For more information, go to biocomla.org.

San Diego’s biomedical companies and research institutes were first stirred to organize in early 1991. At the time, California was gripped by a drought that appeared on the verge of causing a 50 percent reduction in water supplies to San Diego County.

The region’s life science leaders pleaded with the San Diego City Council for a guarantee that they would get enough water, a critical component for their research and drug-making operations. While the drastic countywide reduction ultimately didn’t took place — the water outlook brightened with rains that became known as “Miracle March” — the biomedical community realized it needed to speak with a concerted voice.

From the merger of two predecessor organizations more than two decades ago, Biocom emerged as that unified biomedical voice for San Diego.

The industry here benefited from geography. The great majority of biomedical companies and research institutes are located on or close to La Jolla’s Torrey Pines Mesa. No similar hub exists in Los Angeles.

In addition to its new Los Angeles location, Biocom maintains an office in Japan. Panetta has said Biocom’s relationship with Japan is its single most important international partnership, because of the country’s expertise and strong commitment to life sciences.