CLSA Op-Ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune: Life Scientists Share Connections and Innovative Ideas

By Sara Radcliffe | Op-Ed Exclusive in the San Diego Union-Tribune
June 9, 2017

America’s Finest City is a hotbed for biomedical progress. So it’s no surprise that the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) will host its International Convention once again in San Diego on June 19.

Around 16,000 CEOs, scientists, venture capitalists and dealmakers of all stripes will descend on Southern California. BIO 2017 will provide a unique platform for life scientists to make connections and advance important, innovative ideas. As a regional host, the California Life Sciences Association (CLSA) proudly welcomes the life sciences community to San Diego.

This is the second time BIO has come to San Diego in four years — and with good reason. Academic researchers at UC San Diego, Scripps, Salk and other institutions make important discoveries almost daily. Hundreds of small, entrepreneurial companies translate those insights into new medicines, devices and diagnostics. Sequencing giant Illumina has helped make San Diego the Genomics Capital of the World.

This enterprise is both an intellectual and economic engine. According to the 2017 California Life Sciences Industry Report, in 2015, San Diego’s life sciences companies employed nearly 40,000 people with average annual wages approaching $140,000. In 2016, the cluster attracted $1.1 billion in venture capital. On top of that, UC San Diego received $400 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), while The Scripps Research Institute received $211 million.

San Diego’s success is being replicated throughout the state. California has more than 3,000 life sciences companies, which employ more than 287,000 people and generate $147.7 billion in annual revenue. California companies have more than 1,200 new drugs in the pipeline.

Whether from California, England or China, life sciences professionals attending BIO 2017 share a common goal: leveraging discovery to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems. They are developing disease- and drought-resistant crops to feed a hungry world and finding new ways to treat cancer, heart disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s.

CLSA is working with companies, scientists, patient advocates and other organizations to hold our policymakers’ feet to the fire and protect this chain of discovery. Many links — all important — contribute to the success of life sciences in California, starting with education. California has one of the finest university systems in the world, producing more than 1,300 Ph.D.s in 2014.

The nation also needs to fund basic research. This requires patience — it might take 20 years for a discovery to reach the pharmacy — but it is incredibly necessary. There is not a single drug on the market that did not start in a basic scientist’s laboratory.

From there, we need to ensure a strong business environment that encourages entrepreneurs to take chances. Around 90 percent of therapies fail in clinical trials. We have to help our innovators take those risks.

The Food & Drug Administration performs a crucial task, ensuring therapies and diagnostics are safe and effective, but they cannot do the job without the necessary resources and support.

Finally, we must champion policies that ensure all patients have coverage and access to care. No one should ever have to choose between filling their prescription and paying the mortgage.

Policymakers, industry groups, patient advocates and many others must work together to preserve every link in this chain, and it’s our job to make sure they do. A strong research enterprise is incredibly important to Americans. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 87 percent of voters think cutting NIH research funding is a “bad idea.” I would wager that number is even higher in California.

San Diego will be a tremendous host for BIO 2017, as it was in 2014 and 2008. The convention will be a great reminder that the city, and California as a whole, has excelled at biomedical innovation. But we must also remember that these hard-won gains can be reversed. It’s our job to preserve and grow the life sciences ecosystem — millions of lives depend on it.

Radcliffe is president & CEO of the California Life Sciences Association (CLSA), a California-based nonprofit public policy and business solutions organization representing California’s leading life sciences organizations dedicated to advancing public policies that foster and promote medical innovation. CLSA has offices in San Diego, Sacramento, Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

Read the op-ed at The San Diego Union-Tribune.