Thursday, July 11, 2013
Joseph Jackson, co-founder, Bio, Tech and Beyond
Katerina Bobkova, CEO of the biotech start-up Allostere
Carlsbad is hosting an innovative new business incubator that city leaders hope will eventually generate new high-paying jobs. But it’s a risky venture. Known as a “hackerspace” for biology in San Diego, 'Bio, Tech and Beyond' holds its grand opening this week.
Bio, Tech and Beyond’s website calls the lab a hybrid: part science educator, part biotech start up accelerator.
It’s a leap of faith on the part of the City of Carlsbad and co-founder Joseph Jackson.
“We have multiple objectives. I like to talk in terms of democratizing science but also demystifying it and even domesticating biology,” Jackson said.
Jackson has a vision of creating a space where trained scientists can conduct their own “hopefully” breakthrough research and ordinary citizens can come to learn about molecular biology and how to conduct experiments.
He convinced the City of Carlsbad it would be an investment to lease this building to the incubator for a dollar a year.
Christina Vincent, the economic development director for the City of Carlsbad, said the venture fits well into Carlsbad’s identity as a biotech hub.
“It was vacant for the past decade, so a dollar a year is really more than we were getting in the past,” she said.
Vincent said “what some people may not know is that, for the life sciences, we have 24 percent of the region’s life sciences jobs here in Carlsbad, which translates into more than 120 businesses locally.”
Bio, Tech and Beyond is just the seed of an idea taking root in Carlsbad but it has the potential to become a powerful job creator by changing the model of the way science is funded.
“I think everybody understands that the old model is collapsing. They call it 'pharmageddon,’ referring to the crisis in productivity in R and D, where there have been no new drugs discovered to fill the pipeline for big pharma and they have been laying off their workforce right and left, so the traditional career paths are no longer there,” said Jackson.
Jackson said it costs $1 billion and well over a decade to bring a new drug to market under the current system.
Graduate student Leah Cannon said it’s about finding more cost-effective ways to foster future innovation and she believes even citizen scientists could play a role.
“People still don’t understand and are probably a bit intimidated by the by the whole concept of things like DNA and RNA and proteins — how do our cells actually work? How do you actually do experiments," she said. "But the funny thing is when you are on the inside as a scientist, it’s actually really pretty simple.
“There’s a lot of things you can do to find out some really important information with some really simple experiments so we just want to teach people how to do that,” she said.
The idea is to create a fertile mix of citizen scientists and seasoned researchers.
Seasoned scientists are already showing an interest in using the lab for their own private research, because any discoveries done in an employer’s lab automatically belongs to the employer.
Katerina Bobkova, CEO of the biotech startup Allostere, said she has many years of experience of drug discovery with companies like Dupont and Merck, but she’s now launching her own company.
“We are a small molecular drug discovery company, we are currently concentrating on anti-cancer drug discovery and development,” she said.
Bobkova says research lab space can cost thousands of dollars a month, but at Bio, Tech and Beyond, it will cost a few hundred to rent a bench for a month.
“It’s absolutely important for startups like us, you do need lab space, affordable lab space and you want to be in the company of other people with professional background like your own,” she says.
The biggest challenge for this start up incubator will be to raise the financial support to become self sustaining. But the cost of doing things like mapping a human genome is falling fast.
Bio, Tech and Beyond co-founder Kevin Lustig, who graduated from Harvard and has founded two science related companies of his own already, said he’s excited about who will show up to use the lab space.
“There are, in this area alone, hundreds of people, if not thousands, who have a tremendous amount of talent. They could be the next Einstein for all we know, and because of the fact that they were born in a certain situation: they needed to get a job because they started their family early, they never got the opportunity to get that training and to interact with like minded people. So we’re trying to lower the barrier to innovation so those people come in the door, and we can help identify those people that can really help us solve the problems that we face together,” Lustig says.
The City of Carlsbad has set some ambitious goals for Bio, Tech and Beyond: to provide community science education opportunities, grow membership to 50 people in the first year and launch eight start ups in the first two years.