CLSA in the San Francisco Business Times: Mike Guerra Executive Profile: Amid rising cost of drugs, CEO paddles upstream to promote industry

By Ron Leuty – Staff Reporter, San Francisco Business Times
Nov 1, 2019

Mike Guerra, president of the California Life Sciences Association

As president and CEO of the California Life Sciences Association — one of the major trade groups representing and supporting the industry — Mike Guerra is aimed at helping policy makers and others understand more about the industry’s impact on California’s economy. Since joining CLSA in January, Guerra has worked on educating policy makers about the industry’s impact and strengthening the association’s outreach and money-saving programs for members. The former is tough in a world where the rising cost of drugs has become a major political issue; the latter may be easier, given Guerra’s knowledge of the industry and his familiarity with many California drug, device and diagnostics developers and research institutions.

You’re building the CLSA team back up in South San Francisco. Where’s that growth coming?

Some of it comes from attrition last year when (former CEO Sara Radcliffe) and the board chose not to make hires, and a few that are coming in to rebuild the business development team.

In your world, what does “business development” mean?

It’s membership, sponsorship, our business solutions and our power purchasing programs that offer savings to members, especially early-stage startups that don’t have a lot of money.

How does being a Bay Area native affect how you approach your job?

I have a deep appreciation, with my roots in California, of seeing us and our peers and our customers that started here succeeding. There’s a sense of pride, but it’s disappointing watching so many companies leaving California. That’s why it’s important to work with academia and our research partners on tech transfer to create more jobs to stay in California.

We’ve written extensively about the “exodus” from California. How much is that happening in biotech?

While our state has done well, we face increasing competition from other states and nations. That’s why it’s critical that we protect a healthy business climate and not demonize the people and companies who are doing the work and making the investments.

Drugmakers are under fire from the right, from the left, above and below. How do you evangelize about the industry in this politically charged atmosphere?

Normally when I’m in front of legislators, I talk about our diverse membership — almost 1,000 companies in biotech, pharma, med devices, diagnostics, research institutions. When they hear from us, early-stage companies, small companies and research institutions, it gives them a balanced view.

When much of the early research on drugs is funded by taxpayers, shouldn’t taxpayers get a break on the pricing?

We need to ensure access, but we need to ensure innovation and not stymie innovation for the future. In D.C., the biggest thing we hear about is that drug makers charge more than the price to make it. But there are 100 drugs or so that fail before that happens. It can cost north of $2 billion to get that drug to market, and if a drug fails in Phase II or Phase III, that money is literally gone. Treating some of these diseases costs a lot today, but it takes the burden off the health care system down the road. If you’re looking just at international pricing indices and transparency — it could be devastating.

How do you balance the different needs of large companies and small companies?

The policy and advocacy is certainly the biggest for our Big Pharma members, they are here because they want to make sure CLSA has their needs at heart at the federal and state level. The biotechs, the large ones, are on the same side of that. The small and midsize companies have 10-20 years before they get to market. The first few years is all about the R&D side and stretching their dollars, and they want access to discounts and power-purchasing programs.

Also, we do almost 100 events — education events and partnering programs — to connect member companies across California.

Mike Guerra, president and CEO, California Life Sciences Association

HQ: South San Francisco

What it does: Biotech industry trade group

Members; Nearly 1,000

Revenue: About $8 million

Employees: 27, plus four more at the related California Life Sciences Institute, focused on entrepreneurship, education and career development


Education: B.S., from San Jose State University

Background: Prior to being appointed to the head of the industry group, Guerra served as an executive at laboratory supply companies VWR International and Avidity Science.

Residence: Morgan Hill

Favorite restaurant: Original Joe’s in downtown San Jose


Early riser: Up by 5:30 a.m., then an up to two hour commute. “I bought a Tesla to help me out. I use the (carpool) lane and knocked 29 minutes off the commute. I start talking to my East Coast counterparts on the phone during the commute.”

During the day: Starting with that early-morning office time between 7:15 and 7:45, tackles action items and returns emails and phone calls. “I’m religious about returning emails in a timely manner.”

In the field: “I love spending time with members and strategic partners out in the field, out at events. It lets me keep a pulse on what they need.”

Back at home: Workout before dinner, if possible, catch up with his son and go to his son’s soccer games, dinner, a couple more hours of work and in bed by 10.

Read at the San Francisco Business Times.