If you have had your cholesterol tested, gotten a heart scan or been treated by paramedics, you have benefited from research conducted at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute. But you may be unaware of LA BioMed’s many contributions to improving health care.

The same could be said of the entire bioscience industry in the city of Los Angeles. San Diego and San Francisco remain much better known for their bioscience firms than Los Angeles, even though Los Angeles – with 42,000 bioscience-related jobs – has a larger industry workforce than either San Diego or San Francisco. 

Growth in the L.A. region’s bioscience industry outpaced the national average by 6 percent from 2001 to 2010. Universities in Los Angeles County produce nearly twice as many graduates in bioscience-related fields each year than the Bay Area.

But those graduates tend to leave Los Angeles to find employment elsewhere in California or in other cities with bioscience clusters, such as Boston. L.A.’s bioscience industry is scattered throughout the region, and it falls far short of San Diego and San Francisco in business development, essential early stage funding and lab space.

It is time for the region to remedy those shortcomings to foster innovation, generate the high-wage jobs bioscience produces and retain the talented graduates. A Biosciences Industry Master Plan commissioned and adopted by the county Board of Supervisors provides a blueprint for doing so.

The supervisors recently approved taking the first step toward creating a bioscience hub on the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center campus adjacent to LA BioMed. The board envisions a 15-acre campus with nearly 250,000 square feet of lab, office and specialized space for midstage startups on county land. The proposed location would put new bioscience ventures in the perfect position to encourage bench-to-bedside research and development.

Incubation period

Startups could be incubated under the wing of LA BioMed, which already has proved its ability to spin off new companies and successfully license its innovations. Its many success stories include a therapy for a devastating and fatal genetic disorder, saving the lives of tens of millions of babies born prematurely and an aesthetic treatment for double chins that just received Food and Drug Administration approval. The medical center is a perfect location for conducting human trials in a hospital setting, when needed.

This visionary plan will require substantial private investment – up to $125 million, according to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Potential investors will need to be identified, informed and engaged for Los Angeles to achieve its potential. Successfully attracting such new investment holds great promise for creating new high-wage jobs because L.A.’s bioscience industry is ready to take off – much as Silicon Beach has on the city’s Westside.

At LA BioMed, for instance, plans are already under way for replacing the remainder of its aging World War II-vintage research facilities – and the research institute has just received its biggest donation ever to kick off its Capital Campaign. LA BioMed also recently celebrated the groundbreaking of the first step in this plan, a campus transformation project, which is designed to foster a more collaborative research environment for its more than 100 principal investigators.

Securing private investment will bring L.A.’s bioscience industry out of the shadows and into the prominent place it deserves. Taking its place in the spotlight will encourage venture capitalists to invest here, talented researchers to stay here and budding entrepreneurs to start their companies here. That combination would make Los Angeles a center of innovation that could advance the pace of discovery and improve the economic and physical health of the region.

David I. Meyer, Ph.D., is chief executive of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, an independent nonprofit on the campus of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. He also is chairman of the Los Angeles County Biosciences Task Force.

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