While much of the attention paid to the region’s startup economy has focused on tech of the app and Internet variety, a small but significant core of biotech and biomedical firms are leveraging a strong technical workforce.

The base of that evolving community comes from a large number of ongoing clinical trials at companies such as Amgen in Thousand Oaks, combined with the region’s strong pool of engineering talent – a strength dating back to the glory days of the aerospace industry.

The problem is that many of L.A.’s brightest minds coming out of schools like UCLA and USC wind up starting their companies in such cities as San Diego, San Francisco and Boston because that’s where the venture capital dollars are located.

“I do think L.A. would be recognized even more on its strengths but for the fact that so much escapes,” said Mitch Horowitz, a consultant at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio.

Horowitz is the author of a report commissioned by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors that found the bioscience industry in Los Angeles is relatively small and lags behind the national average in terms of industry concentration and venture funding.

However, the August study identified a few key areas of “core competency” in Los Angeles that are primed for growth.

First and foremost on the list is the market for novel therapeutics and diagnostics.

“There’s a lot of depth in the actual development of new biologics,” he said.

However, many companies have yet to generate much revenue as their diagnostic tests await regulatory approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

This field includes the growing sector of molecular diagnostics, a subset of the more than $50 billion in-vitro diagnostics industry. These biotech businesses are developing genetic analytical tools to aid in the prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment of a wide variety of health conditions.

A high-profile example of this trend occurred last year when Angelina Jolie underwent a preventive double mastectomy upon learning she carried a much higher risk of contracting breast and ovarian cancer due to a gene mutation.

An October forecast published by Dallas market research firm ReportsnReports found that the global molecular diagnostics market will reach $7.9 billion by 2018, with a compound annual growth rate of nearly 10 percent between 2013 and 2018.

“It’s such a rapidly moving field,” said Scott Fraser, a provost professor of biology and bioengineering at USC. “It’s possible to imagine matching a treatment to a person’s body chemistry or genetic makeup. This enables a degree of much more precise treatment where you can treat disease before there’s noticeable symptoms.”


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