CLSA Op-Ed in the LA Daily News: State must keep the life sciences healthy

By Sara Radcliffe | Op-Ed Exclusive in the Los Angeles Daily News
May 24, 2017


There’s nothing easy about developing a new therapy. Researchers spend years in the lab trying to understand how a particular process goes wrong and causes disease. Sometimes they find a way to correct the problem — a new medicine or device. If the idea is promising, a company might buy it, or the researchers might seek out investors and develop it themselves.

The new therapy must be studied repeatedly to make sure it’s safe and effective. These tests are unrelenting and rigorous — most medicines fail in clinical trials. However, if the trials are successful, the Food and Drug Administration will likely grant approval. After more than a decade of hard work, a new treatment reaches patients.

This story gets repeated over and over. California companies have more than 1,269 drugs in the pipeline. These medicines are being developed to treat cancer, infectious diseases, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders and other conditions. In addition, there are hundreds of devices and diagnostics being developed. Each went through some version of the process described above.

If the dedicated people who drive California’s life sciences sector only produced amazing therapies that saved and improved lives, that would be enough. But there is another important and powerful part of this story.

Each year, the California Life Sciences Association (CLSA) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) collaborate on a report that provides a snapshot of the current state of California’s life sciences industry by analyzing metrics such as employment, investments, grants and more. I’m happy to report that the Golden State continues to make extraordinary contributions to the life sciences.

In addition to producing innovative medicines, devices and diagnostics, the life sciences sector is helping drive our state’s economy, employing more than 287,000 Californians at 3,040 companies, universities and independent research institutes. If we add work associated with and supporting the sector, California life sciences sector employment exceeds 884,000 jobs.

California leads the nation in several important statistics related to the life sciences sector. We produced the most life sciences doctorates in 2014, amounting to 1,318. In 2016, we received the most National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding: $3.5 billion. Life sciences entrepreneurs brought in $4.4 billion in venture capital in 2016 — again, the most in the country. These are all signs of a vibrant life sciences infrastructure.

Much of this innovative work is clustered in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego and Orange County, but Los Angeles County is now emerging as a medical device and biotech hotbed as well. Currently, L.A. County employs around 20 percent of California’s life sciences workforce, second only to the multi-county Bay Area. These 57,000 jobs run the gamut from academic research to biopharmaceuticals and wholesale trade.

L.A.’s burgeoning life sciences industry is poised for further growth. Recently, L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas led a successful effort to provide $3 million for bioscience incubator L.A. BioMed. Another incubator, Lab Launch, is thriving, as are the biomedical research and engineering programs at USC, UCLA, Cedars-Sinai, City of Hope and other institutions.

The industry report also highlights the nascent revolution in digital health, centered here in California. These technologies range from telemedicine to fitness tools, like the FitBit, to devices that can track chronic diseases and medication adherence. Digital health technologies have great potential to help patients and reduce healthcare costs.

I encourage everyone to download the 2017 California Life Sciences Industry Report ( There’s lots of powerful information for anyone interested in how the life sciences sector is benefiting the Golden State and people around the world.

As strong as the life sciences enterprise may be in California, we must never forget that this is an incredibly competitive sector. The state must continue its longstanding tradition of supporting world-class educational institutions while encouraging a more business-friendly environment. We must continue to nurture the biomedical innovation that has made the Golden State a life sciences powerhouse.

Sara Radcliffe is president and CEO of the California Life Sciences Association, a non-profit organization representing the state’s leading life-sciences organizations.

View the Op-Ed at the Los Angeles Daily News.