San Diego ranked third largest biotech and life sciences hub

San Diego ranked third largest biotech and life sciences hub
From left, moderator Carlos Nunez, Dr. Jeffrey Benabio, Dr. Joseph Smith, Ellen Morgan, Alan Kneale, and James Kasselman discuss trends in the biomedical field and what officials in the region can do to influence growth. Photo by Ellen Wright

REGION — Biotech and Biomedical industry leaders met on Dec. 4 to talk about innovation and challenges the healthcare system faces in North County at the Annual Innovation to Market Business Luncheon hosted by the San Diego North Economic Development Council.

Panelists discussed San Diego as a “secret” biotech hub.

“San Diego is nationally ranked only third behind Boston and San Francisco,” Damian McKinney, board member for the economic development council, said.

He went on to say how the industry is a huge economic driver for the region.

“Current studies show that every one job in the life science/biotech industry, generates two to five other supporting jobs in this region,” McKinney said.

Panelists included experts from a wide range of the healthcare field. They talked about growing trends and challenges the industry faces.

One trend everyone could agree on was the emergence of technology.

“We’ve got Qualcomm, when you think about wireless stuff and think about moving information, not people,” Dr. Joseph Smith, chief medical officer at West Health Institute said. “It’s crazy that we have a healthcare system that requires the sickest to find their way to their doctors. Why don’t we do what we can to take care of them, where they are?”

Ellen Morgan, CEO of Agility Clinical, deals with patients with rare diseases and talked about the difficulties of having patients geographically spread out.

“We look for ways to cut down the number of times (patients) have to go to the doctor’s office, so things such as implantable sensors will help to collect data about the patient, maybe blood levels and different types of things, so that data can be sent back automatically to their physician,” Morgan said.

Dr. Jeffrey Benabio, physician director of healthcare transformation at Kaiser Permanente, talked about some of the problems with information overload.

“Ray Kurzweil talks about singularity, the point when the pace of our innovation exceeds the bandwidth of the practitioner and I think we’re beginning to choke on that success. I think we’re going to have to get better at information technology,” Benabio said.

“As we all move forward, we have to manage the fruits of our innovation that is perhaps different than we have in the past,” Benabio said.

Dr. Carlos Nunez, chief medical officer at CareFusion and panel moderator said he had issues with the healthcare system.

“I’m a firm believer that we don’t have a healthcare system in this country, we have a disease intervention system,” said Nunez.

He went on to ask the panelists what the region could do to provide better service.

Benabio thought there could be more medical schools and more courses in informatics, to address the lack of physicians in the area.

Morgan felt the region was lacking statisticians.

James Kasselmann, senior plant director of biologics at Gilead Sciences, Inc., said that the region is doing lots towards including people from all education ranges in the biotech field.

“If you don’t like transformation, you’ll like (obsoleteness) even less,” Kasselman said. “But my point is, no one in North County should be intimidated by the field.”

The panelists gave reasons for locating in North County, including inexpensive office space, compared to the south, and the innovative environment.

“Coming from the East coast, I would have to describe this region as largely judgment free. It’s one where collaboration is one step above competition. You’ll think more about succeeding together than you’ll think about winning at someone else’s expense,” Smith said.

Nunez, of CareFusion talked about how close San Diego is to becoming the number one biotech hub.

“There is no reason why this area of the country cannot be known as a Silicon Valley type area for biotech and life sciences. We are number three and not far behind one and two. It’s probably the best kept secret about San Diego County and North County in particular,” Nunez said.

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