The Pasadena biotech corridor, approved amid much fanfare more than a year ago, appears to be finally materializing.
The Cal State University system has commissioned a study to look into the feasibility of creating a biotech campus at the site of the Glenarm Electrical Power Plant. Such a campus, envisioned for the western side of the 16-acre site, would provide the necessary catalyst to create a legitimate industry cluster along the corridor, which starts at the northern terminus of the Pasadena (110) Freeway and extends about a mile northward along Fair Oaks and Raymond avenues.
"What is needed (to jumpstart the biotech corridor) is a shared-use bioprocessing facility, and the power plant site would be an ideal space for this type of facility," said William Opel, executive director of Huntington Medical Research Institutes in Pasadena and a longtime promoter of the biotech corridor. "The (Cal State) study will need to establish whether it is feasible to build it there, and whether there is a market for it."
As of last week, CSU was considering bids from consulting firms for the $250,000 study, funding for which was secured by state Assemblyman Jack Scott, D-Pasadena.
If it were to become a reality, the campus would be a much-needed stimulus to an industry that is seen as a critical driving force for future economic growth but that has been slow to get off the ground in Los Angeles County.
"Biotech is going to be one of the most important industries of the first half of this century," said Ross DeVol, director of regional studies at the Milken Institute. "Within five years we will know where the leading centers are going to be, and Los Angeles will have to act fast to get something moving.
According to Opel, the technological equipment for research in such cutting-edge fields as gene splicing is much too expensive for individual start-up companies to finance. That's why a research campus affiliated with the Cal State University system would be a perfect solution to provide startups with the facilities and equipment they need to be competitive.
The campus would also add crucial momentum to the previously announced corridor deals. Late last year, Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc. said it plans to build a 90,000-square-foot mixed-use facility at South Raymond Avenue and Filmore Street, targeted at biotech firms. Across the street from the proposed Alexandria development, Clinical Micro Sensor Inc. recently leased 24,000 square feet of laboratory and product development space at an already completed biotech facility.
According to Pasadena business development manager Eric Duyshart, there are discussions underway for an additional research laboratory development in the area, which would be even larger than the Alexandria facility, but an official announcement is not expected until later this year.
"There is a need for adjacent space at affordable prices for startups and emerging companies in this industry," said Susan Forte, executive director of Technolink Association, a virtual trade association for the high-tech and biotech industries. "If you look at the success of Silicon Valley, you see that many of these companies work in clusters, share resources, and feed off one another."
The absence of such an industry cluster and campus-like facilities for new and established companies to congregate is one important reason that Los Angeles has not been able to establish itself on the cutting edge of the biotech industry, even though it is home to some of the best research universities in the land.
"The companies that you find here tend to be very small,"said DeVol, "and once they start to grow, they leave the area because there is no space available for them to expand."
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