While the L.A.-centric trade group Southern California Biomedical Council has Orange County members, those hoping to raise the region's profile as a life sciences hub have long sought a closer relationship between the large biotech and medical device communities in the two counties.


That tighter integration has now come with Orange County's Life Science Industry Council's recent decision to merge with SoCalBio, making the latter the lead industry voice for companies from Santa Barbara to San Juan Capistrano, and east into the Inland Empire.


In making the announcement last week, MannKind Corp. Chief Executive Alfred Mann, SoCalBio's chairman, noted that a national study last year calculated that based on the 80,000 people employed in the industry the region has one of the largest life science clusters in the nation and the largest in the state. Even so, the region which includes Thousand Oaks biotech Amgen Inc. and Irvine medical device maker Allergan Inc. is often overshadowed by the Bay Area and San Diego, where startups have easier access to venture capital and experienced talent.


"Together, we will have more resources and strength to overcome some of the challenges facing the industry here, such as access to financial and human capital," Mann said in the merger announcement. "Joining forces will enable us to more efficiently perform advocacy functions at the local, state and national levels."


Amgen Reorganizes

With recent safety concerns seen as likely to stunt the ultimate market for its top-selling anemia drug Aranesp, it's become even more important for Amgen to better mine its development resources.


That includes more than 100 molecules and experimental drugs that might one day become billion-dollar blockbusters and help satisfy Wall Street's demand for steady revenue growth.


The 21-year-old biotech, with a market cap now comparable to a mid-size traditional pharmaceutical company, recently completed a revamp of its research and development unit. The reorganization included splitting the responsibilities of nurturing drug candidates between two senior vice presidents.


Dr. David Lacey, who has been with the company since 1994 and now oversees the company's Bay Area research facilities, last week was named to the new position of senior vice president, head of research, focusing on basic research into potential drugs. Joe Miletich, senior vice president, research & development, now concentrates on the company's translational sciences group, focusing on the mid-phase pipeline from pre-clinical development to early human testing.


In addition, Will Dere, formerly senior vice president and chief medical officer, recently took on a new role as international chief medical officer, based in Uxbridge, U.K. Overseeing all clinical development is Sean Harper, formerly head of global regulatory affairs and safety, who was named senior vice president, global development and corporate chief medical officer.


"We've been working on the reorganization for over a year, in recognition of our growing pipeline and our interest in getting our therapeutics developed as quickly and safely as possible," said Amgen spokeswoman Mary Klem.


In Lacey's earlier role as Amgen's director of pathology, he initiated the clinical studies of palifermin, now marketed as Kepivance, the first product of its type to treat painful mouth sores known as oral mucositis that often afflict patients with mouth cancers. He also worked on research leading to the development of denosumab, an osteoporosis treatment in late-stage clinical trials that is considered a potential blockbuster for the company.


Lacey will continue to split his time between Thousand Oaks and South San Francisco until a successor for his Bay Area facility oversight job is hired.


Nurses Bulk Up

The California Nurses Association, among the most activist health care unions in the country, last week formally became part of the AFL-CIO.


The CNA and its national arm, the 325,000 member National Nurses Organizing Committee, voted to join the 10 million member federation in 2005, but made its membership conditional on AFL-CIO leaders backing a single-payer approach to health care reform. The federation's executive council did so in March.


"We believe that the strength of the labor movement, coupled with nurses' commitment to guaranteeing comprehensive healthcare coverage through H.R. 676, will provide the foundation necessary for genuine reform," said CNA/NNOC President Deborah Burger, referring to a bill by U.S. Rep John Conyers (D-Mich.) to create a national insurance plan.


The union is a longtime backer of efforts by California state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) to pass a single-payer bill in California, currently known as S.B. 840. The union also spearheaded the 2004 state law that set higher nurse staffing ratios in hospitals.


The California nurses had been part of the AFL-CIO when they were affiliated with the American Nurses Association. The Oakland-based CNA was formed in 1995 and broke away become an independent union. Around 25,000 of CNA's 75,000 members work in Southern California hospitals and other health care facilities.


Staff reporter Deborah Crowe can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 232, or at dcrowe@labusinessjournal.com .

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