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CLSA in the San Diego Union-Tribune: LA investors say region can’t match San Diego’s biotech prowess

By Bradley J. Fikes | Read at The San Diego Union-Tribune
March 2, 2018

San Diego’s life sciences sector has a tremendous advantage over Los Angeles, according to two Los Angeles area investors.

The investors gave that blunt assessment of San Diego’s sprawling big brother to the north Wednesday at a biotechnology conference held in La Jolla by Biocom, the San Diego-based trade group for California life sciences.

That assessment reflects ratings of biotech centers that place San Diego in the top tier of biotech investment, with Los Angeles far behind.

San Diego offers a depth of life science managerial expertise and a pool of companies that attracts top executives, said Jerel Banks, MD, chief investment officer of Culver City-based NantVentures.

“And there’s no reason for people to leave. Why would they move to LA?” Banks said at a morning panel discussion, to general audience laughter.

Another panelist, Angeleno stalwart D.A. Wallach, a recording artist and songwriter turned investor, said he thinks Los Angeles life sciences can break through — eventually.

NantVentures is one of a network of companies established by biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, who recently announced he would purchase The San Diego Union-Tribune and Los Angeles Times.

And that network has invested in San Diego biotech. One network company, NantKwest, operates a manufacturing facility in Torrey Pines Mesa. Last year, NantKwest invested $8.5 million in Encintas-based Viracta, a developer of a viral cancer therapy.

Reports on biotech centers over the years have consistently listed San Diego among the top three or four life science hubs in the United States.

In 2016, San Diego ranked third globally in biotech venture investment, with area companies raising $2.2 billion, according to a report by accounting firm EY.

New England came in first, with $7.1 billion, followed by the San Francisco area with $4.8 billion raised. Behind San Diego was China; the UK New York State; Pennsylvania/Delaware Valley, and New Jersey. Los Angeles didn’t make the list.

And in a 2016 report by the California Life Sciences Association, Dr. Shlomo Melmed, dean of the medical faculty at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said the Los Angeles area lags in organizing its life science sector.

“We’re where San Francisco and San Diego were 20 years ago,” Melmed said in the report.

Banks spoke in response to a question by Joe Panetta, Biocom’s president and CEO. The response wasn’t what Biocom was hoping for.

In recent years, Biocom has devoted considerable energy to fortifying Los Angeles area life sciences. The group opened an office there in 2016, and is working with the LA County Economic Development Corporation to build up the region’s biotech prowess.

Also in 2016, the California Life Sciences Association, another statewide biotech trade group, opened an office in the area.

Read the full article at The San Diego Union-Tribune.