Biotech L.A. #2: Convergent Research Ecosystem

In his speech at the groundbreaking ceremony for the USC Michelson Center on October 23, 2014, Dr. Gary K. Michelson emphasized that the rewards of tomorrow require planning and action today. This point is a reflection of the values that lie at the core of biomedical research. Innovation is not limited to the creation of new products and services, it necessarily includes the identification of needs that are not currently met and discovery of new opportunities for growth. In the lingo of the field, innovation requires both research and development.

A Convergent Biotechnology Research Ecosystem in Los Angeles

A Convergent Biotechnology Research Ecosystem in Los Angeles

A Convergent Biotechnology Research Ecosystem in L.A.

A Convergent Biotechnology Research Ecosystem in L.A.

The Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience at USC is the most recent addition to a growing biomedical research hub in Los Angeles. Dr. Michelson’s support comes as at a time when there is a glut of well-trained scientists and engineers across the U.S. and a dearth of appropriate positions in academia and industry (1).

California has 11 universities in the World Top 100, more high-ranking universities than any other state in the U.S. In 2013 and 2014, California received more NIH funding than any other state in the U.S. In 2012, Californian universities produced more Ph.D.s in the life sciences than any other state in the U.S.

These statistics suggest that California is home to more leading scientists than any other state in the nation. Nevertheless, employment in the biopharmaceutical and medical device industry in California grew by only 4% between 2009 and 2013, a stark contrast to 10% growth in Michigan and 19% growth in Utah (2).

Convergent | The Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience at USC is the most recent addition to a growing biomedical research hub in Los Angeles. Dr. Gary K. Michelson’s support comes as at a time when there is a glut of well-trained scientists and engineers across the U.S. and a dearth of appropriate positions in academia and industry. (Credit: USC)
Convergent | World Class Research Institutions: California leads the world with the highest number of premier research institutions (Source: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).
Convergent | Biopharmaceutical and Medical Device Employment (Source: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute)
(Top Left) The Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience at USC is the most recent addition to a growing biomedical research hub in Los Angeles. Dr. Gary K. Michelson’s support comes as at a time when there is a glut of well-trained scientists and engineers across the U.S. and a dearth of appropriate positions in academia and industry (Credit: USC).
(Top Right) World Class Research Institutions: California continues to lead the world with the highest number of premier research institutions (Credit: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).
(Bottom) Biopharmaceutical and Medical Device Employment by State (Credit: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).
Convergent | World Class Research Institutions: California leads the world with the highest number of premier research institutions (Source: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).
Convergent | Biopharmaceutical and Medical Device Employment (Source: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute)
World Class Research Institutions: California continues to lead the world with the highest number of premier research institutions (Credit: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).
Biopharmaceutical and Medical Device Employment by State (Credit: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).
Convergent | World Class Research Institutions: California leads the world with the highest number of premier research institutions (Source: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).

World Class Research Institutions: California continues to lead the world with the highest number of premier research institutions (Credit: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).


Convergent | Biopharmaceutical and Medical Device Employment (Source: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute)

Biopharmaceutical and Medical Device Employment by State (Credit: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute)

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Convergent | World Class Research Institutions: California leads the world with the highest number of premier research institutions (Source: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).

World Class Research Institutions: California continues to lead the world with the highest number of premier research institutions (Credit: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).


Convergent | Biopharmaceutical and Medical Device Employment (Source: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute)

Biopharmaceutical and Medical Device Employment by State (Credit: The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015; Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute)

Although the biomedical sector is California’s second largest employer (2), there have been few government subsidies to support the industry. Similarly, Los Angeles hosts the second largest cluster of biomedical companies in California, but the city has provided little infrastructure to support development, preferring an emphasis on entertainment complexes. Dr. Michelson noted this as a significant unmet need and has used it as an opportunity to support research that impacts human life and health.

Convergent | Total Biomedical Employment by Cluster; The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015 (Credit: Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).

Total Biomedical Employment by Cluster
The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015
(Credit: Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).

Convergent | Total Biomedical Employment by Cluster; The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015 (Credit: Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).

Total Biomedical Employment by Cluster; The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015 (Credit: Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).

Convergent | Total Biomedical Employment by Cluster; The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015 (Credit: Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).

Total Biomedical Employment by Cluster; The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015 (Credit: Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).

Convergent | Total Biomedical Employment by Cluster; The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015 (Credit: Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).

Total Biomedical Employment by Cluster; The California Biomedical Industry Report 2015 (Credit: Todd E. Gillenwater, Peter J. Claude, California Healthcare Institute).

According to BioPharmGuy.com, Los Angeles County hosts 68 biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and medical device companies of various sizes. The majority (19%) of these companies provide support for clinical trials as contract research organizations. Medical device and small molecule pharmaceutical companies tie for second most common specialty (10% each). As relatively new therapeutic approaches, cell therapy and biologics companies are gaining foothold at 8% each representation in Los Angeles County. Diagnostics and molecular testing companies weigh in at less than 1% representation each. There are few genetic screening or bioinformatics companies in Los Angeles. The trend is toward more traditional, service-based contract organizations and pharmaceutical design.

There are a few significant efforts to bring cutting edge translational research and clinical care to Los Angeles. NantWorks is one of these organizations. Started by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a former surgeon, UCLA Professor, and founder of small molecule therapeutic companies American Pharmaceutical Partners and Abraxis, NantWorks encompasses two companies NantHealth and NantOmics that focus on informatic infrastructure and molecular screening to improve the effectiveness of cancer therapy. NantOmics uses genomics and targeted proteomics to screen for mutations within cancer cells that can be treated by protein-specific therapeutics. NanHealth has built the computational system and user-friendly software to analyze terabytes of data in a reasonable amount of time and present it to health providers in a way that helps them make decisions. Together these companies provide a tractable formula for personalized medicine, an ideal proposition to provide healthcare solutions that match the molecular signatures of individual patients.

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong (NantWorks founder)
with former President, Bill Clinton [YPO Global Edge Conference; 2014-03-26].

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong (NantWorks founder)
with former President, Bill Clinton
[YPO Global Edge Conference; 2014-03-26].

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong (NantWorks founder) with former President, Bill Clinton [YPO Global Edge Conference; 2014-03-26].

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong (NantWorks founder) with former President, Bill Clinton [YPO Global Edge Conference; 2014-03-26].

There are few commercial organizations in Los Angeles focused on developing personalized medicine but the topic has found its way into the national conversation and is building momentum. In his State of the Union address, President Obama described a $215 million initiative that he is presenting to Congress to support the acquisition, analysis, and public distribution of genetic information from one million volunteer donors. The goal is to collect data that is useful for understanding public health at the molecular level and that may guide the development of targeted therapeutics.

Obama Announces $215 Million Precision-Medicine Genetic Plan
[2015-01-30; WSJ Live]

Obama Announces $215 Million Precision-Medicine Genetic Plan [2015-01-30; WSJ Live]

Obama Announces $215 Million Precision-Medicine Genetic Plan [2015-01-30; WSJ Live]

Obama Announces $215 Million Precision-Medicine Genetic Plan [2015-01-30; WSJ Live]

These major initiatives align closely with the goals of the Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience at USC. Two headliners at the Center are particularly well situated to raise the bar for translational research in Los Angeles. Dr. Raymond Stevens and Dr. Peter Kuhn, who both transferred from the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, have pioneered the development of high-throughput methods for diagnosis and design of targeted therapeutics. The Kuhn Lab is currently participating in a phase III clinical trial to improve progression-free survival in stage IV breast cancer user a combination of protein-specific inhibitors (3). The Stevens Lab is conducting research for the G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) consortium to structurally and functionally characterize the 200 human GPCRs, in collaboration with five major international pharmaceutical companies (Novo Nordisk, Merck & Co. Inc./MSD, Amgen, Sanofi, and Ono) (4).

This alignment of research interests, regionally and globally, makes it possible to form productive collaborations between academia and industry. Scientists and engineers in Los Angeles are pushing the boundaries of useful and effective research to drive innovation. At the groundbreaking ceremony, Dr. Michelson quoted the popular line from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come,” to emphasize his confidence that these early steps to bring cutting-edge, clinically relevant research to Los Angeles will bring significant financial gain in the near future.

C.L. Max Nikias, Stephen Gruber, David Meyer, Carolyn Hunn,
Mark Ridley-Thomas, Jose Huizar, Thomas S. Sayles;
Los Angeles Biotech Summit [2015-02-27; USC News] [YouTube]

C.L. Max Nikias, Stephen Gruber, David Meyer,
Carolyn Hunn, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Jose Huizar,
Thomas S. Sayles; Los Angeles Biotech Summit
[2015-02-27; USC News] [YouTube]

C.L. Max Nikias, Stephen Gruber, David Meyer, Carolyn Hunn, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Jose Huizar, Thomas S. Sayles; Los Angeles Biotech Summit [2015-02-27; USC News] [YouTube]

C.L. Max Nikias, Stephen Gruber, David Meyer, Carolyn Hunn, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Jose Huizar, Thomas S. Sayles; Los Angeles Biotech Summit [2015-02-27; USC News] [YouTube]

MMRF Initiative

References

  1. Rescuing US biomedical research from its systemic flaws. [B. Alberts, M. Kirschner, S. Tilghman, H. Varmus (2014, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111 (16): 5773-7.]
  2. California Biomedical Industry Report 2015. [California Healthcare Institute T. E. Gillenwater, P. J. Claude (2014)]
  3. S1222 Trial (Everolimus, Anastrozole, and Fulvestrant) in post-menopausal stage IV breast cancer.
  4. International GPCR consortium announces addition of new members Novo Nordisk and Merck &Co., Inc.

Related Links

Juliesta Sylvester, Ph.D. is a biochemist who promotes innovation and technology transfer at the interface of academia and industry. Her research has spanned pharmaceutical discovery, molecular diagnostics, bioinformatics, and quantitative systems analysis. She is an avid world traveler, invited speaker at national and international meetings, and enthusiastic consultant for startups.

Juliesta Sylvester, Ph.D. is a biochemist who promotes innovation and technology transfer at the interface of academia and industry. Her research has spanned pharmaceutical discovery, molecular diagnostics, bioinformatics, and quantitative systems analysis. She is an avid world traveler, invited speaker at national and international meetings, and enthusiastic consultant for startups.

Juliesta Sylvester, Ph.D. is a biochemist who promotes innovation and technology transfer at the interface of academia and industry. Her research has spanned pharmaceutical discovery, molecular diagnostics, bioinformatics, and quantitative systems analysis. She is an avid world traveler, invited speaker at national and international meetings, and enthusiastic consultant for startups.

Juliesta Sylvester, Ph.D. is a biochemist who promotes innovation and technology transfer at the interface of academia and industry. Her research has spanned pharmaceutical discovery, molecular diagnostics, bioinformatics, and quantitative systems analysis. She is an avid world traveler, invited speaker at national and international meetings, and enthusiastic consultant for startups.