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Biotech Boosters are Seizing the Moment

Something good is coming out of the problems at Amgen. As the Thousand Oaks company has struggled in the past year laying off 700 people since last summer renewed attention is being placed on the biotech firms along the so-called 101 Corridor from the West San Fernando Valley into Ventura County and beyond. Many of these laid-off employees are scientists and budding entrepreneurs who love our area and don’t want to move to biotech businesses in San Diego, Northern California, Boston and other parts of the country. They’ve got great knowledge of the biotech business and are incredible resources for our area and what has been always not much more than a nascent biotech 101 cluster. There are several dozen biotech firms here but throughout the years they have been overshadowed by Amgen the world’s largest. Any major growth was with Amgen itself. The emergence of a large cluster of biotech businesses has lacked momentum. Enter the Biotech Forum, a local organization that is promoting the expansion of biotech in our region. It is seizing the moment and trying to get all the different partners together to foster growth in the overall 101 Corridor biotech industry in light of the changes at Amgen. As part of its efforts, the Forum is sponsoring what is probably the biggest biotech gathering ever in our area. It’s called “The Perfect Storm: Forecasting an Emerging Regional Biotech Industry.” This half-day event, which takes place in the Grand Ballroom of Westlake Hyatt Plaza in Westlake Village on March 27, is more than just a networking event. There are plenty of those at anytime throughout the area. This will deal with more substantive issues of how to grow our biotech industry here by combining the talent of the people in our area (whom we want to keep here) and the infrastructure of academic institutions, capital and public-private participation that is needed to support them. Panel topics include: “The VC Perspective Creating the Local Biotech Cluster,” “University Tech Transfer Programs Turning Research Into Revenue,” “Been There, Done That Four Amgen Entrepreneurs Share Lessons Learned,” and “Supporting the Cause Public and Private Sector Resources for Start-Ups.” Keynote speaker is Beth Seidenberg of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and a former Amgen executive. The panel of former Amgen employees turned entrepreneurs seems especially interesting because their experiences will undoubtedly mirror others as the corridor hopefully grows. The event is by invitation only and is geared toward executives, scientists, entrepreneurs and investors in the life sciences/biotech industry but what is learned there will, I’m sure, grow into something more for the entire regional business community. John Dilts, co-founder of The Biotech Forum and founder and CEO of Maverick Angels and his own Dilts Ventures Firm, said he grew up in the Silicon Valley and “watched that ecosystem form” as industries grew there when the investment, academic communities and others came together. He believes the same thing can happen here. “This is the first event of its kind,” said Brent Reinke, Forum co-founder and corporate partner at the Westlake Village office of Musick, Peeler & Garrett. He and others in the biotech-related community are hoping that the event and the contacts people make there will be a springboard to major economic growth along the corridor. Michael Reilly, senior director-strategy at Baxter and formerly of Amgen, will be at the event. Baxter, which has a major biotech unit, is a major player along the 101 Corridor. He sees opportunities here and believes the event will be fruitful. Reilly cites the need for a biotech incubator to help small startups and the current lack of enough local venture capital money to help local growth. Hopefully the event will address these and many other issues critical to growth of biotech in our area. The timing is right. Business Journal Editor Jason Schaff can be reached at (818) 316-3125 or at editor@sfvbj.com .

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