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Report: San Diego Research Institutes Have A $4.6 Billion Impact

Basic science makes a big impact in San Diego's economy, according to a new report.

A scientist at a San Diego research institute makes a discovery. An investor sees an opportunity. A biotech company uses that investment to turn basic science into a commercial product. How much money is generated from that initial eureka moment in the lab?

It turns out the work done at local research institutes makes a big impact in San Diego's economy, according to a new report. The San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. pegs the local impact of nonprofit research institutes at $4.6 billion each year.

"Which is the equivalent of 34 San Diego Comic-Cons per year, 33 U.S. Open golf championships per year or four San Diego Convention Centers," said Sean Barr, vice president of economic development at the EDC.

"The size and the scale of the impact is frankly astounding."

Photo by toml1959/Flickr

The campus of the Salk Institute is shown in this undated photo.

Many of the largest research institutes in San Diego are clustered around the Torrey Pines mesa, including the Salk Institute, the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute and the Scripps Research Institute.

Barr said this is the first report to measure the local footprint of these independent and nonprofit organizations, separate from the for-profit biotech industry.

Elemental discoveries made at research institutes relating to human disease, genomics, the brain, climate change and other fields form the basis for valuable intellectual property and often form the basis for creating valuable companies. The EDC estimates that all scientific research and development activity in San Diego adds up to $14.4 billion in economic impact.

The report finds independent research institutes directly employ 5,640 workers in San Diego, and indirectly support close to 8,000 more.

Leaders at local research institutes say the report proves funding basic research is a good investment.

"The discoveries, technologies, medicines and highly trained people emerging from San Diego’s research sector are vital to the economy of the city — a fact that the EDC report makes very clear,” Salk President William Brody said in a statement.

Scripps' president-elect Steve Kay said San Diego institutes generate value because they work well together.

"Part of the reason The Scripps Research Institute has been so successful as an innovation engine — with more than 50 spin-off companies and nearly 1,000 U.S. patents — is the regional ecosystem that supports discovery, collaboration and entrepreneurship,” Kay said in a statement.

The report also highlights some trends working against research institutes, such as declining federal research funding. Barr said investing in local startups looking to spin out local discoveries is also crucial to keeping profits in San Diego.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer and California Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins will attend an event at the Salk Institute Tuesday afternoon to highlight the report's findings.

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