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San Diego Tech Economy Advocate Duane Roth Dies

Duane Roth, CEO Connect
Duane Roth, CEO Connect

As CEO of Connect, Duane Roth served as a facilitator and spokesman for San Diego's innovation industry. Roth died Saturday at the age of 63 from injuries sustained in a bicycling accident. He is survived by his wife, Renee Roth.

City News Service reports a memorial service for Roth is set for 11 a.m. at the Immaculata Church at the University of San Diego, according to Connect, the organization he led.

On July 21, Roth crashed his bicycle near Lake Cuyamaca. The accident was severe enough to break his helmet. Roth was airlifted to UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest, where he was placed in a medically induced coma. He died nearly two weeks later.


Roth brought years of experience in pharmaceuticals to his position. Before joining Connect in 2004, Roth founded Alliance Pharmaceutical Corp. and held senior positions at Johnson & Johnson and Wyeth.

Joining Connect at a period of stasis, Roth refocused the flagging organization on fostering early-stage commercialization of all the basic research being done in San Diego County.

While heading up Connect, he sat on the governing board for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state's stem cell agency. He also served as vice chairman for Sanford-Burnham’s Board of Trustees. He was scheduled to become board chairman next month.

Connect's relevance to San Diego's modern start-up scene was the subject of some controversy earlier this year when outspoken local entrepreneur Brant Cooper called out Connect and other San Diego institutions as being "anachronistic, decidedly old-school and arguably more harmful to San Diego than beneficial."

But the comment thread to "Brant's Rant" told a different story, with many successful entrepreneurs testifying to Connect's value for companies outside the biotech sphere. Adam Riggs-Zeigen, co-founder of the exercise music service Rock My Run, wrote, "We have seen tremendous value from our CONNECT experience."


Doctors had predicted a slow but gradual recovery for Roth. Connect COO Tyler Orion was appointed to fill in for Roth. The non-profit has yet to decide who will permanently replace him.

News of Roth's death sparked an outpouring of tributes over the last 48 hours. We've gathered a selection of remembrances below.

Paul Laikind — Chairman, Connect:

He had a very important impact on that organization. We saw tremendous growth. To his credit, he also built a very strong team at Connect.

Jonathan Thomas — Chairman, CIRM:

He was unfailingly a voice of reason and optimism and always sought to find ways to make things happen, refusing to take "no" for an answer.

Kristiina Vuori — President, Sanford-Burnham

Duane was an amazing friend, a leader, and mentor to all of us, and a true giant in the San Diego community and beyond. We greatly appreciated the vision and experience he contributed to our Institute.

Larry Smarr — Founding Director, Calit2:

San Diego has lost one of its great leaders. Duane Roth was a untiring champion of innovation, from academia to startups. I miss him deeply.

Bruce Bigelow — San Diego Editor, Xconomy:

I liked Roth because he respected my role as a journalist ... He knew I could be critical as well, and he never expected my support.

Jeanne Loring — Principal Investigator, The Scripps Research Institute:

He would say that each of us is just a diagnosis away from a devastating disease, that tomorrow our lives, or the lives of our loved ones could drastically change. His argument for stem cell research was that we must use whatever tools we have to cure disease.

San Diego City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer posted a photo to his Facebook page showing a throng of cyclists gathered Sunday for a memorial ride to honor Roth. Donations in Roth's name should be sent to Pedal the Cause, an organization that raises cancer research funds through annual bicycle races.