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North County Area Nurturing Biotech

By FRANK NELSON Contributing Reporter A cluster of companies around Santa Clarita is putting northern Los Angeles County on the map in the cutting-edge world of biotechnology and its close cousins biomedical, biopharmaceutical and medical devices. The City of Santa Clarita’s economic development unit has a list of almost 20 such ventures and administrative analyst Ryan Drake is confident the numbers will grow. “We’re looking to attract more to the area,” he said. “The City of Santa Clarita’s business climate is conducive to the industry. Adding to the business friendly environment is our recent designation as an Enterprise Zone which provides even more incentives for businesses to locate to the city.” Perhaps the highest profile player in this area is Nasdaq-traded MannKind Corp., a biopharmaceutical developer with more than 100 of its 600-plus employees based in Valencia. MannKind has been traveling the long and expensive road to market with its signature product Technosphere Insulin, a unique inhaler-delivered diabetes treatment. It’s been a demanding journey, but company CFO, Dick Anderson, believes the end is in sight. He said final clinical trials are now underway in the U. S., Europe and Latin America, and the company expects to file for Food and Drug Administration approval at the end of this year. Anderson said the FDA typically takes at least a year to investigate and approve such applications and he’s hopeful Technosphere will get the green light “in the first quarter of 2010”. MannKind has developed a method of formulating insulin as a powder which can be delivered through an inhaler; on contact with moisture deep in the lungs the compound instantly changes to liquid and is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. Among other things, this would eliminate the need for diabetics to self-administer insulin injections. But Anderson said the benefits of Technosphere go far beyond just its convenience since it also offers much safer, more reliable and more efficacious insulin control and delivery. MannKind is also engaged in early clinical trials for a cancer vaccine that Anderson said is intended to treat solid tumors, such as those found in colorectal and ovarian cancers, and also melanoma. MannKind takes its name from billionaire Al Mann, the nationally and internationally acclaimed biotech pioneer, described by Anderson as “one of the catalysts” for so many biotech-related companies around Valencia. Foundation’s outreach Mann’s influence is widely felt through the Alfred Mann Foundation, a center for medical research founded in 1985 and located in Santa Clarita. Today the foundation’s futuristic focus is on battery-powered micro-stimulators and micro-sensors that can be implanted in the body and controlled wirelessly, helping restore damaged vital functions. The foundation envisions this biotechnology helping people with such debilitating conditions as paralyzed limbs perhaps because of a stroke or accident migraines, epilepsy, urinary incontinence and obesity. Bioness, a Valencia biotech under the foundation’s umbrella, is using micro-stimulation to help victims of strokes, multiple sclerosis (MS), brain injury and other neurological disorders regain the use and control of their hands and feet. In 1993 Mann founded Advanced Bionics. Today he remains chairman and co-CEO of the Valencia company which is producing implants enabling deaf adults and children to hear a device popularly known as the “bionic ear”. These cochlear implants are placed surgically in the inner ear, bypassing damaged or missing cochlear which normally contain tiny hair cells whose vibrations enable the brain to interpret sound. The implant, connected to an external microphone and sound processor, mimics the cochlear, stimulating the hearing nerve fibers by converting sounds into an electrical pattern which is sent to the brain and “converted” back into sound. Another local company, TriMed, is also helping to get people back on their feet often literally,with a range of titanium and stainless steel pins, screws, wires and plates used to reconstruct and fix fractured small bones, such as those in the wrist, fingers and feet. Growing company David Medoff, one of three owners of the company which employs 20 people, about a dozen of them in Valencia, said the business is growing at between 20 percent and 25 percent annually. “We’ve never had a down year,” he said. Medoff said these unique products are designed for specific types of fracture patterns. The benefits for patients and surgeons from this degree of customization have led to sales at hospitals and surgery centers all over the world. At least two overseas companies, Netherlands-based diagnostics firm Qiagen and Isotope Products Laboratories, owned by Germany’s Eckert & Ziegler, have set up shop in Valencia. Also in Valencia, Speciality Laboratories offers a full suite of assays and diagnostic testing. From its 200,000 square foot facility, the company is enhancing patient care through testing in areas such as cancer, infectious diseases, allergies, genetics, rheumatism and child healthcare.

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