Biotech startup executives discussed the industry’s challenges and opportunities in the Valley region during the Corporate Leaders Breakfast organized by California Lutheran University on Friday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.
The panel participants were James Treanor, chief executive of ADRx Inc.; Frank Watanabe, chief operating officer of Kanan Therapeutics Inc.; and Hai Yan, chief executive of REMD Biotherapeutics. All three companies are headquartered in the Valley region, at Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village and Camarillo respectively.
The three executives collectively agreed that the Valley region is due for building a critical mass around the biotech industry. The participants elaborated on this sentiment around three key issues: costs, talent and local support.
Watanabe of Kanan Therapeutics, which is developing a cardiovascular drug, said the cost of living and operating a business in the Valley can be a double-edged sword.
“Relative to San Francisco, the area is very cheap, but it’s difficult to recruit people from the Midwest to California,” he said. “You get a real sticker shock when you do.”
The executives agreed that compared to other biotech hubs like San Francisco and Boston, the Los Angeles region is relatively affordable which has positive effects on business operation costs.
Talent is abundant in the region in large part due to a steady stream of experienced professionals who have worked at biotech giant Amgen Inc. in Thousand Oaks.
Yan, a former researcher at Amgen, is developing diabetes therapy using licensed technology from Amgen.
“Drug development can’t be just learned from school,” he said. “You have to learn from mistakes and experiences. And a lot of Amgen people have great experiences.”
Treanor of ADRx, which develops therapies for Alzheimer’s, said well-known biotech hubs benefit from an image of excitement around innovation, created by collaboration among universities, industries and local government. The Valley region is still lacking that biotech brand identity, he added.
“I think we missed an opportunity here in the local community to better utilize the expertise and the innovations that are happening locally,” he said. “Often these ideas are being picked out and moved to other places in the country.”
The executives urged local participation and enthusiasm around the biotech industry in the Valley.
Watanabe added, anything the local community can do to improve the business environment will help biotechnology flourish, as California’s taxation is high and regulations are onerous.
“If you compare Los Angeles to San Diego, San Francisco or Boston we are a titular in the biotech world,” said Watanabe. “The more we can do to build up the understanding of L.A. as an important center of biotechnology innovation the better.”