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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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March 5, 2013

What Really Makes a Biopharma Hub?

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Posted by Derek

Luke Timmerman at Xconomy has a good post on biotech research hubs. A recent survey set him off, not because it ranked the Boston area #1 (a reasonable assessment, and not just because I live here), but because it ranked San Diego #2.

It's not that he has anything against San Diego (nor do I). But it does not outrank the San Francisco Bay area as a biopharma hub, not in any way that I can think of. Luke goes into the details, and shows how this latest survey went off the rails. But he's also calling for someone to come up with a better one, and he has a very realistic list of criteria that should be used.

So what's the harm? San Diego (and Raleigh-Durham, etc.) get to feel good when they finish high in such surveys, and why not? Well, the temptation might be to think that you already have what you need to succeed - heck, that you've already succeeded. But San Diego, for example, could use help in the local venture capital environment, and (as Luke points out) could also use some help even in things like its airport connections. Complacency is not your friend.

Comments (12) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. Puff the Mutant Dragon on March 5, 2013 1:24 PM writes...

GO SAN DIEGO!!!! haaaaa, bay area sucks.

now all we really need is a good football team

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2. Sleepless in SSF on March 5, 2013 2:02 PM writes...

Wow, what a ridiculous set of criteria used in the report. Either the realty company that wrote it is based in San Diego or it was ghost written for the San Diego Chamber of Commerce. Good on Luke for calling them out. His suggested criteria seem pretty reasonable -- Xconomy should follow up with their own ranking based on his ideas.

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3. bbooooooya on March 5, 2013 2:04 PM writes...

"now all we really need is a good football team"

And a baseball team...and a hockey team...and a basketball team......We do have a velodrome (note, I am deliberately ignoring the one in San Jose, despite counting the Sharks hockey team......)!

San Diego should be a sold (tied with RD?) #3.

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4. DLIB on March 5, 2013 2:39 PM writes...

Live in the Bay Area now, went to UCSD for grad school. What I loved about San Diego was the concentration ( what is around you per square mile). Bay area is massive in relation.

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5. Anonymous on March 5, 2013 3:25 PM writes...

How about 'found any medicines recently' as a criteria (licensed ones don't count).

Sorry, silly suggestion...

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6. Anonymous on March 5, 2013 7:31 PM writes...

What's wrong with SAN airport connections? I fly in and out of SAN all the time - it works for me.
Scraping the barrel for negatives if you ask me.

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7. MDA Student on March 5, 2013 7:33 PM writes...

I agree with #5. Especially since some "hubs" might not be producing anything...especially given the resources they have available.

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8. Anonymous on March 5, 2013 10:23 PM writes...

The highlight in SD is ILMN and LIFE in order to claim #2 biotech hub, seriously? They make instruments, not medicine, and these technologies wasn't even invented in SD. The nice thing about SD is the easy going, collaborative atmosphere. I say it is time to light some behinds on fire and get competitive. As of last Friday, another PFE subsidiary (100 scientist/professional) got the boot. Welcome to believe what you read.

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9. Morten G on March 6, 2013 9:02 AM writes...

@8 Does that really matter if they are going to be employing a lot of people with specialities transferable to medicine biotech? I agree that CAT scanner companies and such are useless in this context.

What do you need?

Profitable companies of a certain size and stability.
A number of upstart companies.
Universities of a certain size and ranking (does have to be top10).
Venture capital with insight into the sector and desire to invest in it.
Hub airport?
Some measure of compactness? Or is it always assumed that one hub is an area where you are always within commuting distance of all the potential employers?

Measures of success?

Launched products (NMEs, generics, vaccines, biology-based diagnostics)
Licensing (out / in)

Anything else? I don't like Timmerman's list. Too many variables to weigh. Too many things that are only tangentially related. On the other hand my list just ranks by size really (and previous success, not emerging success).

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10. Anonymous on March 6, 2013 9:24 AM writes...

"now all we really need is a good football team"

The Chargers went 14-2 the season Schottenheimer was fired. Then you went and picked up Norv Turner, who went 4-12 with the Raiders that same season. The same Norv who benched Jerry Rice to give minutes to Ronald Curry, and broke Jerry Rice's ongoing streak of most consecutive games with a catch. At least you didn't miss out on anything when you traded Drew Brees, ha ha!

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11. darwinsdog on March 6, 2013 10:33 AM writes...

I would look at venerability of the biotechs and products to market. I would separate different product classes. To the first point Seattle has a long and profitable history in therapeutic development and might come out a close #3 to SF and MA and way ahead of SD which has had very few drugs originated and developed from. One downside to Seattle is that big pharma has purchased everything with a developing products and a few fiscal qtr later shut down the new sites, so a constant restart status for that hub but a very experienced base of scientists. SD on the other hand has lots of incubators and early stage iotech (or in the past branches of big pharma) but few approved products from its hub. To the second point take the greater DC area which has a respectable amount of biotech (I might put it the same as SD, it has bigger more profitable home grown biotech and more products than SD) but it is extremely focused towards vaccines, biodefense and diagnostics (pays to be proximal to the gov't tap) with almost no small molecule therapeutics.

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12. drug_hunter on March 6, 2013 3:13 PM writes...

Don't get me wrong, I like the bay area, but in Cambridge you can walk from one Pharma/biotech to the other, or at worst take the T for 2 miles. (Even the things on the other side of the river in Boston are easy to reach.) Everything is within a very short distance. I have had days where I met with people from a biotech, a pharma, a VC, a startup, and a university, all just by walking from place to place. It really does make an enormous distance -- more than I had previously realized.

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