Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Biotech Thriving in the Bay Area

Biotech Thriving in the Bay Area
By David Morrill/Alameda Newspaper Group

SAN FRANCISCO - The Bay Area life sciences industry is stronger than ever, adding 6,000 jobs in 2006, according to a new report. And the growth is expected to continue next year.

During the release Tuesday of BayBio's "Impact 2007" report, its president said the industry is on the brink of experiencing a dramatic shift of focus from research to development.

"For the first time in its life, we'll see the market become dramatically commercial," said Matt Gardner, president of BayBio, a trade association for the life sciences industry in Northern California. "Suddenly, a lot of these companies that were all about research will be product companies for the first time."

The report focuses primarily on biotech, but because the sector has matured and broadened, the report refers to the sector as the life sciences industry to include a range of related companies.

Most of the chief executives surveyed for the report said they expect to increase their staffs by at least 10 percent in the next year. The challenge for executives will be to find the right talent to meet the demand, as many of those who graduate in life sciences are more qualified for research rather than development and manufacturing.

"This is one of the few industries where job openings are going up like a hockey stick," Gardner said.

Although Cambridge, Mass., and San Diego might argue, BayBio asserted that the Bay Area has the nation's largest cluster of life sciences companies. The Bay Area cluster includes Solano County, the Genentech plant and other biotech firms in Vacaville.

Currently, there are 900 life science companies in the Bay Area with a total of 90,000 employees and more than $6 billion in payroll.

"There's no other place in the world where you can find that many companies and that many employees all within one and a half hours of each other," said Daniel Perez, a venture capitalist, who spoke Tuesday. "If you want to go into biotech, there's no better place in the world than right here."

In addition to having 393 approved products, which include the same drug approved for different ailments, the region's life sciences companies currently have 400 drugs and devices in either Phase II or Phase III studies. These are the final steps before they can be submitted for regulatory approval.

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