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Biotech Incubator Opens In North County

July 11, 2013 1:14 p.m.


Joseph Jackson, co-founder, Bio, Tech and Beyond

Katerina Bobkova, CEO of the biotech start-up Allostere

Related Story: Biotech Incubator Opens In North County


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ST. JOHN: A new biotech incubator opens tomorrow in Carlsbad. Founders hope it will break the mold on biotech research and create a more accessible path to invasion and research. One of its cofounders is in-studio to tell us about it.

JACKSON: Thanks for having me on.

ST. JOHN: And a scientist who plans to use the space for her own research.

BOBKOVA: Thank you for having me.

ST. JOHN: Joseph, why is this the right time to launch this venture?

JACKSON: We're at a unique point in the history of technology, we believe. It came out of the academic environment where the only people that had access to computers were people at MIT or Berkeley and then we saw this incredible Democratization of the technology to the point where everyone carries this thing around in their pocket. So a similar trend has been underway in the last 20 years? Life sciences. If we look at what's happened with the cost of DNA sequencing.

ST. JOHN: Give us a sense of your background. Where are you watching from?

JACKSON: So I've been sort of watching this since 12 years ago. I was an undergrad originally. And I was thinking about this because of when I was seeing happening with file sharing and the disruption of the media industry overnight with the arrival of these peer to peer file sharing system, Napster being the first. I was at Harvard, and right across the way, MIT was the beginnings of this field that is now be called synthetic biology. They brought a different perspective, an engineering perspective from biology. They came from a science background, and their idea was how can we begin tow program biological systems to bring a degree of predictability to this field.

ST. JOHN: Does this mean it's changing how it costs to do the research?

JACKSON: Sure. The whole guiding of the synthetic biology movement is in the near future, we will be able to be design, build, and test these biological systems much more quickly than it has ever been in the past. And what's driving that is the cost of synthesizing DNA. So we've heard about this, $1,000 to consequence every man, woman, and child. But in the near future, it's going to be much less expensive to print the DNA, to construct the model that you need to test. And that could change everything from biofuels to personalized medicine. What it's also doing is introducing a lot of new people to this field who want to come and tinker with this technology.

ST. JOHN: So on one hand, you have this amazing explosion of possibilities, but on the other hand do you feel like the model for the way science research is being funded is broken in some way?

JACKSON: Well, absolutely. We're under tremendous strain at all vessels right now because of the NIH budgets being cuts, and everybody is affected by sequestration. This is the buzz word of the day. That's having ripple effects throughout our usual ways of supporting science. So crowd-funding is become an alternative for sciences, for the public to appeal directly to the government to support their research projects.

ST. JOHN: Okay, tell us your background.

BOBKOVA: Yes, I'm a pharmaceutical scientist. My background is in drug discovery. I am a part of a new biotech start-up. In particular they would be interested to find -

ST. JOHN: The kinds of drugs that would stop cancer from spreading.

BOBKOVA: From spreading. The majority of patients would die not because of the primary tumor but because of metastasis. That would help a lot of patients.

ST. JOHN: Why would you not do that research with a large company?

BOBKOVA: Well, this is a very good question!


BOBKOVA: Large companies are pursuing different avenues. But very often, you hear this dogma paradigm that you have to fit in. If you have a truly innovative idea, it will not be recognized until you show some results. The true innovation, and it is known fact that an overwhelming number of drugs on the market were found by small companies, the latest recession hit very badly on the level of investment and funding.

ST. JOHN: Well, that's right. So your saying that the real innovation seems to be coming from the smaller grassroots companies. Why is that? Why aren't the large companies having more success?

BOBKOVA: Well, if we look what happens in the history of any organization. They start out being very creative, but the more people the more processes and bureaucracies evolve over time, and the more difficult it is to get the ideas recognized.

ST. JOHN: And the other thing is that as a researcher, your research is the property of the company you're working for; correct


ST. JOHN: I don't know how much of the benefit you actually get.



ST. JOHN: So the incentives are less if you're working for a large company.

BOBKOVA: Absolutely. But I would say my primary is to try to find those new drugs that are currently not being addressed adequately by large companies.

ST. JOHN: How would this help you?

BOBKOVA: Well, it's a fusion of disciplines. So you don't find only biologists like me. But also builders of 3D printers, optical engineers. I feel that this is the place to be!

ST. JOHN: And why Carlsbad, Joseph?

JACKSON: Well, we've been very lucky to have extremely proactive forward-thinking local government. And they high country wanting to attract a team to this space as far back as 2009. They were searching for someone who would come in. We were fortunate to talk with them about this unique partnership.

ST. JOHN: They have a large number of biotech companies already.

JACKSON: It's part of Thermo and Isis. Right within a 1-square mile radius, principally.

ST. JOHN: So have you had a chance to talk to them? They must be aware that even though you're small --

JACKSON: Yes, we've talked about ways we can collaborate. And everyone is extremely excited. We're unveiling the space tomorrow. And we'll be able to start having regular weekly meetings where the companies can come into the space, talk with entrepreneurs working in the space, and see if there are particular needs that could align.

ST. JOHN: So what can people who might attend the grand opening expect to see?

JACKSON: We'll have a number firefighter demo stations sets up to give an idea of the range of individuals set up in in the space. And we'll have food and drink. When you come in tomorrow, we're expecting around 300 people in the course of the early afternoon and evening. We'll have kombucha, another example of how biotechnology is really a domestic technology. It's quite popular these days.

ST. JOHN: Is that something that being be evolved?

JACKSON: It's something one of our members has already started making in the space. And it's just a fun way to introduce people toy this concept that there's things you can homebrew literally in this space.

ST. JOHN: Interesting, you've got people like Katarina who is looking for a cure for cancer and other people who might be looking for a homebrew product.

JACKSON: Right. Or just a small side business, a lifestyle business. We have one fellow who developed a way to make gluten-free beer. So there's all sorts of unexpected things that are coming forth that you wouldn't immediately think of when you say biotech.

ST. JOHN: Aren't there some risks that people who are not fully trained scientifically might do something dangerous with this research?

JACKSON: Sure. This is something that has come up in the past. We have an orientation training process. We review the kinds of work that's going to be done on our premises. Wife spent years since 2010 having annual outreach events with the FBI and other government agencies around this whole movement. There are labs setting up all oaf the world today, and everyone is very cognizant of what is the future ever the synthetic biology. And we believe this is much more safe than people doing stuff in their garage. We have experts here, everyone knows what's being done in the plan. It's a very low risk of something going wrong. We have our committee that really your sees lab operations. We know everything that's on premises as far as what type of yeast strain, what type of organism.

ST. JOHN: And is this somewhere where someone could come and find synthetic mentors?

JACKSON: Right. We've created a few different levels of users, varying expertise abilities. So we'll have our day to day tenants who are working there all the time, and then our night and weekends warriors. And we'll have specific events, classes geared toward that where it can make it accessible for someone who has less of a background. We have a goal of launching or helping eight companies within the first two years. We want to be able to support between 30-50 of these individual projects. We've got a variety of different revenue sources that we're developing. Ranging from the renting the space, but also grants, and our crowd-funding campaign is kicking off on Friday. The opening starts 4:30 PM, and runs till about 7:30PM.

ST. JOHN: And I believe Carlsbad set a goal of 50 members?

JACKSON: That's right. Within the first two year, we want to hit 50, and eight companies.

ST. JOHN: And Katarina is nodding her head. You're planning to be --

BOBKOVA: Yes, absolutely. This is a cost-efficient alternative and a very important initiative supported by the city of Carlsbad.

ST. JOHN: Sounds like there is a lot of potential there. And you'll need a lot of support!

BOBKOVA: Thanks so much.

ST. JOHN: Thank you so much for joining us.