Tri-Valley bioscience sector is growing rapidlyUploaded: Nov 13, 2018
The Tri-Valley's rapidly expanding life sciences sector was spotlighted Oct. 25 when the i-GATE incubator brought together leaders and other interested people for the inaugural Tri-Valley Life Science Summit held at Veeva Systems in Hacienda Business Park.
It featured a snapshot of the sector locally by Lauren Moone, executive vice president of Mirador Capital, as well as a panel discussion. Moone developed the Tri-Valley Index of public companies and has compiled Mirador's report on the Tri-Valley entrepreneurial ecosystem.
She noted there are more than 120 life science firms in the Tri-Valley and 90% of them are making devices. That's expected to be a $9 trillion global market by 2021. Locally, Natus supplies devices, software, supplies and services to diagnosis and treat babies. It's a $500 million company.
To date in the Tri-Valley, about $300 million has been invested by venture capitalists and 60% of that has been invested into firms making devices. The Tri-Valley is ideal for device firms because they have access to the highly educated Bay Area professionals, plus the San Joaquin Valley provides access to technical workers to manufacture the devices. For example, Lam Research runs buses from the San Joaquin Valley to its Livermore manufacturing plant.
Summit organizer, Brandon Cardwell, head of the i-GATE in Livermore, then turned it over to a panel with Greg Hitchan, a founder and managing partner of the local venture fund, Tri-Valley Ventures; Amy Gryshuk, PhD, program liaison for the physical and life sciences directorate at Lawrence Livermore National Lab; and Karen Drexler, CEO of Sandstone Diagnostics in Livermore.
Hitchan noted that one of the strengths of Tri-Valley is the talented former PeopleSoft employees who live and work in the valley. Oracle swallowed PeopleSoft in a hostile takeover in December 2004 and laid off half of the employees in a month. The founders went out to establish Workday in Pleasanton.
Others founded their own companies such as Veeva where CEO Peter Gassner and CFO Tim Cabral are both PeopleSoft alums. Headquartered in Hacienda Business Park, Veeva employs nearly 700 people here and 2,500 worldwide for its cloud-based software for life sciences and pharma companies.
Hitchan also cited, as did others, the incredible value to the area from Lawrence and Sandia national labs. The labs have significantly improved their technology transfer over the decades and now offer partnerships and access to extraordinary technology through the Open Campus.
Sandstone was founded in 2012 by former Sandia researchers, Greg Sommer and Ulrich Schaff, with technology based upon diagnostics developed for the military on the battlefield. Sandstone is pioneering the technology in men's fertility with do-it-at-home sperm and semen tests. Unlike most of the device firms that are business-to-business, Sandstone is going directly to the consumer through Amazon and other channels.
The fertility kit sells for $119 online through the Sandstone website.
CEO Karen Drexler brought a different viewpoint to the panel and other panels on the Tri-Valley's innovation ecosystem that I've attended. She lives with her husband in Los Altos Hills, so she faces a long counter-commute to get to Livermore headquarters.
Drexler joined Sandstone as an investor and board member and then took over as CEO in 2014. She has a distinguished career in technology and as an investor, but she's not familiar with the local ecosystem. Asked what attracted her, she cited the founders and the technology addressing male fertility, which has dropped alarmingly over the last 40 years.
Notably, she said when she's talking with outside investors in the West or South bays, location is not important. It's the technology that intrigues potential investors.
Gryshuk noted that many people do not understand the lab's capabilities in the biosciences that started with researching the effects of radiation of people that grew out of its core mission of nuclear weapons. The multi-disciplinary laboratory allows the lab to bring smart researchers with a variety of perspectives to tackle problems.
When asked what should be done to maintain and enhance the Tri-Valley's innovation culture, she cited middle school and high school education and encouraged firms and individuals to make internships, job shadowing and other opportunities available to local students in science, math, technology and the arts.