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CLSA in San Diego Union-Tribune: California remains a national force in life sciences
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By Bradley J. Fikes | San Diego Union-Tribune
Nov. 16, 2016

California, the nation’s birthplace of biotechnology, continues to add jobs in that sector and the life sciences in general, a trade association reported Wednesday.

While growth is slow, the life sciences remain a potent economic force, especially in San Diego County and the San Francisco Bay area. There are also signs of expansion in Los Angeles County, which has long been overshadowed by its neighbors to the north and south.

Life sciences staffing grew by 2 percent from 2014 through last year to reach direct employment of 287,200 people and indirect employment of 597,000 workers — for a total of 884,200 individuals, according to an analysis by the California Life Sciences Association.

“Frankly, there simply is no state that compares to California,” said Sara Radcliffe, the association’s president and CEO. “The numbers speak for themselves.”

Life sciences encompass areas mainly concerned with health care, such as biotechnology and medical devices. Besides its economic importance, the industry provides badly needed new therapies such as drugs and equipment for everything from diabetes management to monitoring of a hospital patient’s vitals.

The Golden State added 192 life science companies in 2015 compared with the previous year, for a total of 3,040, the report said. In all, these businesses generated $147.7 billion in revenue.

Life science companies in California received 264 government approvals for medical devices last year, the report stated. Moreover, 1,269 experimental medications were progressing through clinical trials as of Sept. 7 this year, led by those aimed at combating cancer, infections diseases and nervous system disorders.

California stands out as a major force in these fields, said George Goodno, a spokesman for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, commonly called BIO, which represents the life science industry nationwide.

“California has the nation’s largest bioscience employment base, with a high level of specialization across the spectrum of industry sub-sectors,” Goodno said. “The California bioscience industry also enjoys an annual wage that significantly exceeds the average for bioscience workers across the country.”

He added: “The size and strength of California’s bioscience workforce played an important role in BIO’s decision to return the BIO International Convention to California for the second year in a row, this (coming) June 19-22 in San Diego. We expect to draw over 15,000 attendees from more than 65 countries this summer.”

Regional clusters

San Diego County, with nearly 9 percent of the state’s population, employs 13 percent of its life science workforce. The figure for the seven-county San Francisco Bay area, with 21 percent of California’s population, is 24 percent.

And the jobs pay well: San Diego County’s life science employees earned an average wage of $138,951 in 2015, the association said in its new report. That number was exceeded only by the Bay area’s $162,226 and Ventura and Santa Barbara counties’ $200,018.

Los Angeles County, which accounts for 20 percent of all life science staffing in California, saw a comparatively low average wage of $73,368 in the same year.

But Radcliffe said there are also early signs that the county, regarded as less entrepreneurial in life sciences than the state’s traditional biomedical hubs, is becoming more active. “Los Angeles County has long had stellar academic institutions, some really terrific companies, but we are really seeing growth” at this point, she said.

Biocom, the San Diego-based life sciences trade association, recently opened an office in downtown Los Angeles. The group aims to combine the Los Angeles region’s strengths in infrastructure, global trade and research with San Diego’s talent for both performing research and commercializing it.

The California Life Sciences Association followed suit in September, establishing its own Los Angeles office. It has partnered with LA BioMed, a nonprofit research institute in Torrance, and the biotech incubator Lab Launch in Monrovia.

“We’re where San Francisco and San Diego were 20 years ago,” Dr. Shlomo Melmed, dean of the medical faculty at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said in the report.

That hospital, along with UC Los Angeles, the University of Southern California and CalTech, has attracted nearly $693 million from the National Institutes of Health this year.

National stature

Two of the biggest biotech companies in the world make their headquarters in California: Amgen in Thousand Oaks, worth $109 billion, and Gilead Sciences in Foster City, worth $101 billion.

But in the larger pharmaceutical industry, they are eclipsed by companies such as Merck, worth $175 billion, and Johnson & Johnson, worth $316 billion. Both are based in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, California remains a life science leader in getting research dollars.

It’s the top state for funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $3.47 billion last year, according to the new report. Massachusetts, the runner-up, received $2.52 billion.

The statistics align with those from another group, a research advocacy organization called United for Medical Research. However, the California Life Sciences Association said various comparisons between California and other states are difficult because the states often differ in how they classify sectors within the industry.

For example, the new report’s list of top biopharmaceutical and medical device employers by state ranked Massachusetts in seventh place, with 33,414 workers. But MassBio, that state’s life science trade group, gave the total in those two fields as more than 78,000 employees.

Another challenge in drawing such comparisons is that the distribution of life science clusters can vary between states. The greater Boston area came in first among life science clusters in a 2015 survey by the commercial real estate company JLL. The Raleigh-Durham region ranked second, the San Francisco Bay area third and San Diego fourth.

However, California’s life science industry is spread between multiple regions, while the great majority of Massachusetts’ activities are concentrated in the Boston area.

bradley.fikes@sduniontribune.com

(619) 293-1020

Read the article at the San Diego Union-Tribune.