I was recently in San Francisco so thought I would continue my theme of writing about biotechnology regions that I visit around the United States.
Growing up in England, I remember listening to the radio broadcasts of the late Alistair Cooke, who from 1946 to 2004 shared his “Letter from America“; the longest running radio programme ever produced. In the pre-internet era his mixture of anecdotes, insights and reflections reminds me of modern day blogs.
San Francisco remains a favorite city of mine. Fueled by access to venture capital and proximity to major research universities such as Stanford, University of California at Davis, Berkelely & San Francisco, start-up companies continue to thrive in the Bay area. BayBio, Northern California’s Life Science Association runs many excellent events. Their annual conference in April is focused on “Powering Global Innovation.”
The anchor tenant in the San Francisco biotech mall remains Genentech, and no other company in the area has had the same growth trajectory. What catapults a company forward is a combination of a breakthrough product and ability to capture its value. The licensing deals and acquisitions we see today in the biotechnology industry, to some degree limit the ability of emerging biotech companies to repeat Genentech’s model. Risk sharing, partnering and the desire of venture capitalists for an early return on investment, all limit the ability of a biotech company to make it to the major leagues. In the end, even Genentech ended up being acquired by Roche.
What’s the future in San Francisco? It remains a high cost place to live but with a pool of talent in the entrepreneurial culture of the West Coast. There is also the uncertainty about the California economy and the cost of doing business, which is most likely set to increase. In some way, my impression is that San Francisco has not quite taken off as a biotechnology city in the same way that Boston and Cambridge has. Feel free to comment if you disagree or have an opinion otherwise.