The Business of Biotech

Delivered on June 8, 2017

It’s a privilege for USC to host this important discussion about the business of biotech. I want to recognize USC Civic Engagement for organizing today’s event – Sayles, Paysinger, Escutia. And I want to welcome our colleagues from other colleges and universities, leaders in public service and private business, as well as our friends and neighbors from the local community.

As we talk about the future of this region, I am reminded of a parallel from the past. In the early 1870s, the Southern Pacific Railroad had an ambitious vision to add a new station, connecting San Francisco to the north, with either San Diego or Los Angeles to the south. When a move was made to bypass L.A., USC’s chief founder took a stand. Judge Robert Maclay Widney knew if our city missed this opportunity, it would never reach its full potential. So, he called a meeting with business and community leaders, and together they created a resolution that eventually brought the railroad to our city. Suddenly, L.A. began to attract a wealth of financial and intellectual capital. New businesses were built, and new industries arose. And Los Angeles began its transformation into the capital of commerce and culture for the entire world.

Today we live in a dramatically different time. But we find that San Diego and San Francisco are once again our competitors for the future of the revolutionary industry of biotechnology. And they are far ahead of us. Never before in human history has there been an age in which we can explore so many intellectual frontiers and design so many incredible technologies. Astonishing advances in medicine and the life sciences are delivering better treatments and therapies, allowing all of us to live better lives.

Over the next 20 to 30 years, it will be biotechnology that will be the fastest growing sector of the global economy. In 2013, the international market for biotech was valued at about $270 billion. By 2020, it is expected to more than double to over $600 billion.

While Silicon Valley has long been known as a titan of computer technology, the stage has been set for our region to shape the future of biotechnology. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to take advantage of the extraordinary resources that already exist in this region. A recent report discovered that Los Angeles County is home to more than 2,400 life sciences companies, employing nearly 70,000 people, creating an economic impact of over $40 billion. But it is biotech that brings together the many branches of the life sciences, leading to new technologies and treatments, helping us dramatically improve the quality of human life. And let’s don’t forget – one biotech job being created is three non-high-tech clerical, legal, sales allocating technology jobs.

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With San Francisco and San Diego standing as this state’s largest centers for biotechnology, Los Angeles finds itself falling farther behind in the race for the future of this increasingly important industry.

If you combine San Francisco and San Jose, you will find the Bay Area attracted nearly $3 billion in global biotech venture capital in 2016. Even San Diego received nearly $650 million. And yet, Los Angeles ranked 13th, with just over $153 million. This is a troubling trend considering we produce far more graduates in science and engineering than any region in America. Our local colleges and universities proudly generate more than 5,000 graduates every year in the STEM discipline.

But for too long we have watched as these skilled students join a great migration of minds to San Francisco and San Diego, where more jobs are available for their chosen careers. Now we see an unparalleled opportunity to keep our intellectual capital here in L.A. County.

We have envisioned a new biotech corridor that will harness the top talent in science, medicine, and engineering, creating a host of productive partnerships with the public and private sectors. And we believe the perfect place for this new corridor is on the land located next to our Health Sciences Campus.

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Recently, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors commissioned a consultant to examine the viability of our vision. A feasibility study determined that this region has the potential to enter the top tier of biotech corridors in the entire nation. And Batelle developed a master plan that can help us bring together public and private institutions to make important investments right here in East Los Angeles.

We are grateful for the strong support of virtually all of our local leaders and elected officials, who understand that this will be an extraordinary economic engine and job creator for the community. Our current plan promises to provide thousands of temporary construction jobs. But it will be the permanent employment that will revitalize this region. In San Diego, the Torrey Pines Mesa supports some 26,000 jobs. In San Francisco, the Mission Bay project will provide more than 30,000 permanent jobs. If we do it right, you can see the tremendous scope and scale of the opportunities that await us.

We have the chance to create positions for people within the biotech industry, ranging from high-level researchers to entry-level technicians. Studies have shown that for every high-tech job that is generated, four more are created in non-technical fields. We will see an explosion of employment in areas like administration and accounting, in sales and marketing, in restaurants and retail. And we will watch this community emerge as an attractive area for large established companies as well as small startups, all searching for new employees to help them grow and expand.

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To lay the groundwork for this new biotech corridor, USC has made immense investments in our medical enterprise. We have purchased hospitals, added clinical practices, and strengthened our physician partnerships, significantly expanding our footprint in the field of healthcare. Now we are in the very early phase of planning for a new hospital right here in this neighborhood, which would be constructed next to the Keck Hospital of USC.

In recent years, we have made a major effort to recruit nearly 100 transformative faculty, who are among the world’s leading medical minds, and who have shown extraordinary success in starting biotech companies.

While USC’s world-class faculty enrich our local economy by attracting large amounts of federal funding, we have also formed effective partnerships with the private sector.

And we have joined forces with visionary philanthropists who are eager to invest in the boundless benefits of biotech. This past May, at our annual commencement ceremony, I had the privilege of presenting an honorary degree to Dr. Gary Michelson, who proudly named the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience. Thanks to his extraordinary generosity, talented teams of the world’s most renowned researchers are building bridges across disciplines and departments. Their brilliant breakthroughs will help us provide more personalized treatments for patients, improving the quality of care for all of the residents of this region.

These breakthroughs will include improvements in the treatment of diseases like diabetes and childhood obesity that disproportionately impact the communities surrounding our Health Science Campus.

You can see our commitment to this community at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center, where our dedicated doctors and respected researchers strive to provide premier service to patients at one of the largest public hospitals in the nation. We are also deeply devoted to building a pipeline to prepare a new generation for opportunities in the biotechnology industry.

USC is diligently engaged in improving access to education and training for those in our nearby neighborhoods. You can see that in our STAR program, which has been completed by more than 800 local students, with 100 percent attending college and 97 percent receiving academic scholarships. You’ll find it in our NAI program, which recently expanded into the East area of Los Angeles, giving greater academic attention to more than 1,100 students from the sixth grade until they graduate from high school. 65% of kids go to college for STEM. You’ll find it in a summer research program called Bridging the Gaps, which allows underrepresented students to conduct laboratory and clinical research alongside our faculty at the Keck School of Medicine. And you’ll notice our commitment in our Med-COR program, which works with about 200 economically disadvantaged students each year, preparing them for rewarding careers in medicine and engineering.

In addition to our acclaimed academic programs, we have recently turned our attention to creating conversations throughout the local community. Last October, we partnered with East Los Angeles College to produce a bi-lingual educational event for families called “Preparing for the Biotech Decade.” We were delighted when more than 1,100 people – including K-12 students and their teachers – attended to learn about the promise and the possibilities this new industry holds for them.

Earlier this year, our Health Sciences Campus hosted the “Day of Discovery,” attracting hundreds of students from dozens of local middle schools and high schools who were introduced the biosciences, explored interactive exhibits, and participated in laboratory experiences related to stem cell research. And just last week USC worked with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce to hold the “2017 State of STEM” conference, which focused on expanding access and opportunity to those interested in careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

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Today we find ourselves at a pivotal point in our history. On the road ahead, we can see the incredible opportunities biotechnology can bring to this community, our city, and our county. But every moment we delay, we are forfeiting the future to other regions that are creating jobs and building for the coming boom in biotech. Let us work together to combine our energy and our innovation to bring all of the benefits to this community.

We will count on the close collaboration of our local colleges and universities, particularly our community college partners. We will depend on businesses who are eager to form powerful partnerships with academic institutions. And we will rely on the entire community to work together, sharing the same vision, to make biotech the economic engine of the future. As was the case with the Southern Pacific Railroad, let’s work together to make sure the biotech “train” not only comes to our region, but comes right here to East Los Angeles.

Thank you.