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How is San Diego's biotech industry faring?

 June 5, 2024 at 5:49 PM PDT

S1: It's time for Midday Edition on KPBS. San Diego is a hub for biotech. Today we're talking about the industry and new innovations. I'm Jade Hindman. Here's to conversations that keep you informed and inspired and make you think. Much like anything else , the biotech industry ebbs and flows. We'll talk about the impact recent layoffs have had on the local economy.

S2: People looked at that now as a sort of sugar high period for the biotech industry. Since then , there's been a pretty strong , pretty sharp correction.

S1: Then we'll tell you about the great innovations that have come out of San Diego and what's still to come. That's ahead on Midday Edition. Much of the life sciences and biotech world has descended on the city this week , as the Bio International convention continues downtown today. As you may know , San Diego is a major hub for the industry , which accounts for nearly 180,000 jobs in the region. That's according to the latest bio. Com impact report. But amid constant layoffs and closures , we wanted to look at how jobs in San Diego's economy are being impacted. Natalie Rocha covers the biotech scene in San Diego for the San Diego Union Tribune. Natalie , welcome back to midday.

S3: Thank you so much for having me.

S1: And Jonathan Watson is here he is. STAT news is West Coast biotech and life sciences reporter Jonathan , welcome to you.

S2: Happy to be here.

S1: Always good to have you. So , Jonathan , I mean , as we just laid out , biotech is it's big business here.

S2: Low point in terms of the pandemic and the public health impact. But what happened for the industry essentially , was that you had this really clear infusion of money and outside interest in what biotech companies were doing. Part of that was that a lot of the rest of the economy was shut down , and part of that was also that companies like Pfizer and Moderna were getting a lot of attention for developing Covid vaccines. Other companies got attention for developing Covid tests and treatments. So if you were to look at biotech stocks during that time , they were going , you know , way , way up. A lot of companies were going public leasing additional lab space. People look at that now as a sort of sugar high period for the biotech industry. Since then , there's been a pretty strong , pretty sharp correction. It's been a lot harder to raise money for a number of companies. I know Natalie has written about the availability of lab space , which definitely was not true a few years ago , but but is now. So at this moment , it's turned into sort of a tale of the haves and the have nots. There are still some companies that are raising 100 , 200 , you know , $300 million in these venture capital mega rounds. But you also have a lot of companies that have less than one year of cash on hand and are sort of struggling to get by day to day. Wow.

S1: Wow. Well , Natalie , what are you seeing ? And tell me a bit about these lab spaces. Yes.

S3: Yes. So there's a lot of consolidation happening among the big pharma companies. Actually. They're kind of reevaluating where they've invested money. And a lot of times where they decide to make cuts is to their workforce. And so we've actually seen a couple of pharmaceutical companies like Takeda and Pacific Biosciences , um , completely decide they're going to shut down their local offices and pull out of San Diego. Um , now , that's not , again , a terrible sign for our office market and life science companies , but it just shows that these companies are really trying to tighten their belts when it comes to investing. And so that means for lab space is we have a lot of space that's just kind of unused on the market. Either some of these companies are putting up their spaces for sublease because they have smaller workforces after layoffs , or they just are doing a hybrid workforce that is just not going to the office as much. So , um , we're kind of in a stage where the supply is really outpacing the demand for lab space in San Diego. Well.

S1: Well.

S3: So , you know , it's just not as easy to get those fundraising rounds as Jonathan mentioned , as it was two years ago or even three years ago , in 2021 , we had record investment in life science companies. And so , you know , it was easy to get lab space , get funding from investors. But now investors are kind of looking at , okay , are there results from those companies we invested in a couple of years ago , and they're being really picky about how they're deploying their money in making deals. And so it's that's kind of something that's led to this kind of greater trend of companies , again , just slashing their workforce or cutting back on their office footprint. Wow.

S1: Wow. Well , as Jonathan , as Natalie just mentioned , you know , there's this growing trend.

S2: And those are the three main biotech hubs that people talk about in the US. You know , in terms of the layoffs , it's interesting that Natalie mentioned a couple of big companies that have bigger companies that have announced layoffs. I think , you know , what we're seeing now , and there's some data that was shared at the bio meeting today on this , is that a lot of the layoffs that have happened so far this year have been from the big pharma companies. Uh , in other previous years , more of the layoffs were happening from small biotech. So that seems to be one of the differences. And I think it's also one of the reasons why it feels like there are a lot of layoffs happening. If you look at the number of layoffs that have been announced or the number of people who are being laid off , uh , it's not so different in 2024 than from 2023 or from 2022. But the difference is that Bristol-Myers Squibb , Takeda , Bayer , some of these other well-recognized companies are slashing their workforce.


S3: And so what's kind of happening there is , you know , while the big companies might either be consolidating or cutting back their workforces , some of these small companies aren't surviving because , again , they're not getting those financing rounds. And one of the examples we've seen is particularly with companies with , um , coronavirus related products. So on the bigger side , you know , we see Pfizer locally. They decided to they've done some layoffs , but they also decided to scale back their office footprint. And they are moving to another office in Torrey Pines. But it's a little bit smaller than the one they currently have. Um , and then on the other side , we also have Quidel , who announced that they're going to lay off about 500 employees locally over the next year. And so they again , they made a really big splash with their , um , rapid Covid 19 tests. And so they again had great growth during the pandemic. And now it's kind of fallen off , um , as people just don't have that demand. And then another example , um , recently is Q health. That is the company that really rocketed off of the demand for Covid 19 testing. They had a 15 minute test and they supplied it to Google , the NBA and some big companies , including the US government. And just recently they decided to call it quits. And they're shutting down completely. Um , because really , again , that was their one product and they don't have demand. So it's really been tough , especially for those companies that had such , you know , a tie to the coronavirus pandemic.

S1: Well , that in mind , Jonathan , you know , our other areas seeing a similar level of job losses as San Diego. I mean we had so many biotech companies here innovating things during the height of the Covid 19 pandemic. So , you know , we would naturally start to see things scale back.

S2: You know , when the big companies , you know , Bristol-Myers Squibb , for example , says that they're laying off 6% of their workforce , or that's roughly , I think , 2000 plus workers. They had some layoffs in San Diego. They had some layoffs in the Bay area around Redwood City. So when the big companies announced layoffs , those layoffs are hitting multiple , uh , biotech hubs throughout the country and sometimes outside the US , because these are. International companies have operations in a number of places.


S2: I mean , I know people who have been laid off recently from some big pharma companies and who are still actively on the job market. I was , you know , interviewing a CEO over in the Boston area who said that she's been , you know , sent a number of times what they call resume books , uh , from some of the bigger companies that have had layoffs. So , uh , big pharma company may send the resumes of people they've let go to other companies in the area to sort of help their workers find a new home. But I think it's still a bit unclear. You know , I think there is an opportunity for some of the biotechs that are having success in raising large funding rounds right now , because there are a lot of folks who are looking for work. And so there's an opportunity for companies that do have money to hire them.

S1: Jonathan , besides the larger economic side of this discussion , there is also a pretty impactful foreign relations piece.

S2: You know , in terms of the US-China relationship , it's complicated. These are two countries that have a lot of economic ties , but which are also clearly competing with each other , too. And so you're seeing that reflected in what's happening in biotech. So specifically , Congress is looking at an act called the Bio Secure Act right now that would try to prevent US companies from working with certain Chinese companies of concern companies where there's some alleged connection between the company and the Chinese Communist Party or the Chinese military. Some of the companies that have been named specifically include a number of uh , genomics companies , as well as certain service providers , uh , Chinese companies that provide manufacturing services and other kinds of supportive services. So that's been a huge point of conversation. There are some biotech companies that support this act that's currently going through Congress. There are others that worry that it's going to force them to have to work with other service providers that may be more expensive or less efficient. And I can definitely tell you , there are a number of sessions here at the bio conference that are focused on national security , which is not something that I've noticed in the past. So that US-China relationship has sort of become part of the conversation. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. Well , I mean , and as you mentioned , you've been on site for the bio conference happening downtown this week. Um , national security , though being a big topic of conversation in the hallways and , uh , on the panels. Tell me a bit more about that.

S2: Well , there's going to be a keynote address , uh , during the meeting where we have a sort of former or , I believe , a Navy admiral speaking about , uh , national security and the biotech industry. And , you know , there are roughly 3 or 4 different sessions , uh , at bio that have some high end to national security. You know , it's interesting because if you walk through the main exhibit hall in the convention center , there are all of these booths and pavilions from , uh , all sorts of states and regions , you know , Japan , Mexico , Canada , China has a presence there as well. Some of the companies that were named specifically in that act , in the Bio Secure act , uh , have sort of pulled their presence from this meeting and also have left bio as an organization. So , you know , there's sort of a undercurrent of tension there , I think. So it's it's definitely that's one of the themes that has been part of this meeting.


S3: You know , cancer research is something that a lot of these smaller biotechs have , you know , really looked for new and innovative ways to tackle whether it's through drugs , therapies. Um , and so that's something that definitely is , um , always kind of popping up in my reporting. Um , but another one more recently that I've looked at is mRNA. So we all became familiar with mRNA through the coronavirus vaccine and how that became a little delivery system to get those drugs into our system and help us fight off the disease. And so what I've seen is a lot of companies are saying , hey , we can apply that to other diseases or other , um , even maybe cancers as a , you know , way to get some of these , um , therapies into our system. And so there's some companies that are really thriving off of that kind of new advancement. And that's just something that's really just at the beginning stages of kind of bubbling up.


S2: And I think one is probably true for , for anybody , let alone if you're following biotech , if you are watching television and paying attention to commercials , it seems impossible to not see an ad for Ozempic these days. Uh , which is part of this category of what are called GLP one drugs. A number of companies are developing , uh , and that's a category that , you know , include diabetes , drugs , weight loss drugs. I'm really interested to see what some of the other benefits are or can be from these drugs going forward. Uh , you know , some of the results that have been presented around reducing a person's risk of major cardiovascular events , like a heart attack or stroke ? Uh , there's been some data presented around improving certain forms of liver disease. And also , you know , maybe things such as sort of alcohol use or abuse. So these drugs seem to work in a number of ways , which scientists actually don't fully understand. So that's a very interesting space to to look at going forward. I think another space is gene editing. So there's this technology called Crispr that was first discovered about ten or so years ago , uh , that the bacteria have had for a long time. And it's a way to sort of very precisely cut or edit DNA. The first Crispr based medicine was recently approved back in December as a therapy for sickle cell disease. But there are a number of other efforts to use gene editing technology to treat rare and deadly diseases , and to potentially do so in a way where you can actually deliver the drug precisely to the parts of the body where it's needed most , as opposed to having to take cells out and put them back in. So so that's very interesting. Uh , and then the third , just from an investment standpoint , I've seen a number of big deals , uh , venture capital deals around companies working on , uh , immunology and inflammatory disease. Uh , Natalie's right. You know , oncology is still really the bread and butter of biotech , but I've seen a bit of an uptick into of money going into inflammatory disease. So I think that'll be an interesting space to.

S1: One of the the prevailing questions or the bigger questions that I keep hearing , um , is how far is too far when it comes to technology. And I'm thinking of of these fears over AI becoming too powerful or brain implants for neuralink's testing. Uh , you mentioned gene editing there. What are the concerns over technology overreach ? Yeah.

S2: Well , there there are many concerns in terms of gene editing. You know , you have technology that allows you to treat and perhaps cure deadly or devastating diseases. But you could also imagine using gene editing in ways that are , uh , inappropriate to , you know , modify embryos or people. You know , there's actually a sort of notable and very controversial real example of that. Um , you know , in China a few years ago , uh , with artificial intelligence , you know , that is sort of already being used in some ways to help companies design drugs , uh , come up with new , better versions of molecules of antibodies. But , you know , you could imagine , you know , using that to come up with , you know , bioweapons. Uh , so I think there's definitely , you know , for each and every technology that can be used in good ways. Of course , they're nefarious ways. And so , uh , that's certainly true with , uh , artificial intelligence. And I think it's interesting , every single session I've been part of or tuned into at this conference has mentioned AI at one point or another. So it's definitely on people's minds. Yeah.

S1: Yeah.

S3: And , you know , the promising ways I've seen it talked about in locally for some of our startups is how it could really , you know , ramp up efficiency for research. And I think , yes , well , that Jonathan raised there's all of these , you know , questions and concerns about AI. Um , there's also a lot of promise with how it can help , um , scientific researchers , you know , find applications for drugs that , you know , find exact targets for , um , diseases. You know , one of the companies I wrote about recently , um , is saying they're using AI to kind of look for how a drug can go to it can help people with , um , who basically aren't being served by drugs that are on the market right now , and they're trying to use the power of AI to work through mounds and mounds of data to find the exact target that works for specific patients versus , you know , kind of a trial and error approach where you just have one drug and it might not work for everybody. So I think there's , you know , again , a lot of unknowns with AI , but there's also a lot of promise , um , since we're in the early stages of using it in , you know , the realm of life science.


S3: So now investors are really being picky about how they're deploying their money. You know , we're seeing bigger checks being written to fewer companies. But at the same time , again , that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's going to companies that might have , you know , established CEOs who have been in San Diego a long time. And if going from , you know , one successful company to the next , and they are also showing solid results for the drugs and therapies that they're working on. So , you know , this sector , whether it's real estate for life science or just the , you know , drugs that they're working on , things go in cycles. So I think things should pick up as far as , you know , deals in the next in the coming year. But , you know , just kind of watching it closely.

S1: Jonathan , what about you ? Yeah.

S2: Well , I think I would agree with all of that. And I think there are a number of reasons to think that the industry's growth is going to pick up. One of them is that there's actually a whole lot of investment money sort of sitting on the sidelines right now. There are a number of venture capital firms that have record amounts of dry powder as the phrase. So money that they could be investing but are being fairly picky with. But , you know , at some point they are going to have to deploy that. Uh , there are also a lot of big pharma companies that have lots of cash that they've built up over the past few years that have an extra incentive to use it , because some of their big selling drugs are going to be coming off of patent the next few years. So that may cause some big pharma firms to buy smaller biotechs. And we've seen some examples of that between late last year and , you know , the first quarter of this year. I think the big question really is exactly when biotech is going to be picking up a lot more in terms of its growth. We happen to be in an election year. So that puts a lot of inherent uncertainty. And , you know , the phrase I keep hearing from folks is stay alive till 25. So I think that may give some sense of how the industry is thinking right now and , you know , the road ahead.

S1: So the best advice is to just keep living. Uh , I've been speaking with Jonathan Rosen of Stat News , along with San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Nataly Rocca. Thank you both for being here. Thank you.

S3: Thank you so much.

S1: Coming up , we'll look back at how the biotech industry was started in San Diego and the global innovations that were created.

S4: But it all started back then when when hybrid tech used monoclonal antibodies , biology , basically to create the technology for the PSA test.

S1: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. Today on the show , we've been talking about San Diego's biotech scene , and now we wanted to continue that conversation. My next guest has been involved with biotech and life sciences in the region since the 1980s. Joe Panetta is the president and CEO of Biocon California. He joins me now. Joe , welcome to Midday Edition.

S4: Thank you. Jade , it's great to be with you.

S1: So great to have you here. So I mean , it can be confusing what biotech actually is. It crosses through so many disciplines.

S4: Biotech is simply the use of biological processes and biological systems to produce products that can be developed into everything from foods , uh , to fuels to healthcare products. Mm.

S5: Mm.

S1: And you've been working in this industry here in San Diego for a long time. Tell us about the origins of the biotech industry in San Diego. Yes.

S4: Yes. Well , you know , the biotech industry in San Diego is really about 50 years old. And it got its start back in the mid 1970s when two professors from UCSD , Ivo Royston and Howard Bergdorf , created a company called Hybrid Tech and Hybrid Tech , the first biotech company in San Diego , at a technology that was later developed by Lily uh to produce the PSA test for prostate cancer. Lily acquired hybrid tech in the early 1990s , and a lot of the folks who had been with hybrid tech grown up with hybrid tech , we still call them the hybrid tech kids today went on to start their own biotech companies after they left. So we were seeing , uh , exponential growth in the biotech industry over that period of time as a result of what came out of hybrid tech and a lot of other companies as well. But it all started , uh , back then when when hybrid tech used monoclonal antibodies , biology basically to create the technology for the PSA test.

S1: Well , you mentioned UC San Diego , and they've played a big role in shaping the industry in the region.

S4: Roger Revelle was was a biologist and focused on biology. And UCSD eventually really became a biomedical research school in a lot of ways. And a lot of the technologies that are used in biotech here in San Diego today are technologies that , through a technology transfer process , have been passed on to companies and entrepreneurs. And so we're fortunate that we have not only UCSD , but we have a wealth of other research institutes here who contribute in the same way , including the Salk Institute , the Scripps Institution , uh , the Sanford Burnham Institution , the La Jolla Institute for Molecular Biology , many , many schools and institutes that do that early stage research. A lot of it that is done based on grant funding that comes from the National Institutes of Health here to San Diego. And they developed the early stage products , the early stage discoveries that actually become products. Wow.

S1: Wow. And can you talk about some of those products that have really come out of San Diego ? Um , because even when I hear biotech , I'm curious to know the distinction between biotech and just tech.

S4: And when we talk about biotech here in San Diego , we give it an even broader definition. It goes to diagnostic tools such as some of the tools , like Covid tests that Quidel developed a few years ago here. Uh , it goes to technologies to monitor glucose , such as the Dexcom glucose monitor that , you know , you see advertised on TV every day. Uh , but if we go back to when things really begin to take off , uh , it was in the 1990s , and , uh , the first product , uh , was a product called Rituxan , uh , for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Uh , that was a huge breakthrough for for patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. And that was developed by a company here called Idec. Uh , Idec eventually , uh , was merged with Biogen in Boston , and , uh , unfortunately , we we lost the presence here. But that was a huge product , a company that I used to work for , my kitchen Corporation here in San Diego , developed some of the first insect resistant crops based on genetic modification , uh , so that those crops did not need insecticides to be sprayed on them. Uh , so that was another huge breakthrough. And then a company called Agron that was acquired by Pfizer , uh , developed a product called virus. Uh , virus was a product , uh , again , another , uh , breakthrough product to treat HIV and Aids. So we've had some major breakthroughs here going into the 2000. Amylin Amylin Corporation was a company that developed a product , uh , to moderate , uh , glucose levels for diabetics as well. Another huge breakthrough , one of the first products for for diabetes and probably 50 years since since the development development of synthetic insulin. So big breakthroughs here in San Diego over time.

S1: Lots coming out of San Diego.

S4: Uh , it has a significant impact on the economy. We've got several thousand companies here in San Diego as well , everything from companies that are very , very early stage , uh , literally , you know , working out of , uh , uh , a garage front in Sorrento Valley , some of them or an incubator , uh , and now more so in an incubator than garage fronts. It used to be that I would go to see companies that were based in a , in a storage garage down , down in Sorrento Valley. But that was before we had incubators. Uh , and incubators , you know , our facilities that can house 20 , 30 or 40 companies at once. So everything from early stage companies to , you know , as , as I mentioned , uh , when these companies that developed some of these , uh , breakthrough products were successful. They were acquired by companies like Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb and Lilly. And so , you know , we have the presence of these large multinational pharma companies here today as well.


S4: And the technology is is then the discovery work and the technology is then transferred over to the entrepreneurs that run the early stage companies. And it's largely funded through what we call venture capital , which is private investment capital , really risk capital that investors place in these small biotech companies hoping that they will succeed. There's there used to be a formula that and I think it's I think we use it still today largely that , uh , venture capitalists have to invest in about 20 different companies in order to , to find one that succeeds in moving a product into the early stages of clinical development. Um , so it's a tremendously risky process. And , um , when these products get into clinical development , uh , we're talking about an investment of millions of dollars to , to get to the point where there's a product. The estimate is that overall , if a product is successful , if a company is successful , uh , over sometimes 12 to 15 years that it takes to develop a new drug , uh , the investment in getting that drug across the finish line can be as much as $2 billion. Wow.

S5: Wow.

S1: That's a lot of money and a lot of time , but , uh , well worth it.

S4: Uh , I think , you know , you talk about how I got my start here in the , in the late 1980s , people who worked in the late 1980s and into the 90s and early 2000 and biotech were primarily people who had a biochemistry or biology background , a lot of them PhDs. Uh , but things began to change in the early 2000. Um , we began to develop more robotic systems for testing , uh , and more automated systems for manufacturing. So we were able to employ people in the industry who had degrees , even at the associate level. In fact , Mecosta College here for a long time has had a manufacturing tech program that was a two year degree program. It's also a four year degree program. The other thing that's changing a lot is that , uh , today biotechnology is largely dependent upon things like sequencing tools , uh , and , and other types of , of , uh , tools that are , that are what we call platform technologies , uh , technologies in the form of kits , uh , and uh , and other types of products that enable uh , companies to do their research. These involve , um , skills like engineering and computer science. So there's much more of a demand for those types of skills in the industry today than there ever was. Wow.

S1: Wow. Well , so much innovation coming out of the industry. I've been speaking with Joe Panetta of bio. Com California. Joe , thank you very much for your insight.

S4: Thank you Jake.

S1: Still ahead. The role Mira Costa College plays in graduating Biotech's most brilliant minds.

S6: So people who historically have not had opportunities in the Stem fields , we are bound and determined to open up doors and opportunities for folks from historically marginalized populations.

S1: KPBS Midday Edition is back after the break. You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. We've been talking about San Diego's life sciences and biotech industry , and how local universities like UC San Diego have been instrumental in its creation. Well , now we're bringing in one local community college looking to increase opportunities for students to start careers in the field. Sonny Cooke is the president of Mira Costa College in Oceanside. She joins us now. Sonny , welcome to Midday Edition.

S6: Thank you. Thanks for having me.


S6: So one of those tracks is for research and development. You usually think of that happening in university labs and academic labs. And then we've had a track that was meant for people that want to work in industry and more of a production end. So this would be sort of the end stage of research and development. People that will put products to actually the FDA approval process and then quality manufacturing. And so we had a two year degree that we've offered for some time , as well as a certificate for people that already have a bachelor's degree , but are coming back to have more hands on training relevant to the field. So in 2015 , the state of California changed legislation that allowed us at community colleges now to offer 15 pilot bachelor's degrees. And since then , that has changed to open up a little bit more for other community colleges. But we were one of the lucky 15 that were selected to offer a really unique degree in bio manufacturing , a bachelor's degree that prepares people for the life sciences and industry specific to San Diego County and particularly in Southern California as well.


S6: And so that means serving the needs of individuals , obviously through educational opportunity , but also supporting our local businesses and our local economy through the workforce development programs that we have. And so this is an important aspect of our mission. And keeping in line with what industry needs is , is really a part of the heart of our workforce programs , making sure that we offer the relevant training programs and that the skills that we offer , uh , to our , our students really match the needs of business and industry. And so this degree is really a perfect example of that in that it offers that background in , in , in life sciences and biology , biotechnology , but it also offers the whole process of quality controls that are associated with the FDA approval process for anything that would be put into a human or an animal , or applied to a human in an animal. And then the last part of it , which is so important , is that the concepts of advanced manufacturing , so that you can make large scale batches of , of drugs and therapeutics. And so that's exactly what's relevant in San Diego County and so important to that whole life science industry here as it grows and develops and expands.


S6: And so some examples of that is we have regular advisory committee meetings where we have people in the from the employers , business and industry come and advise our programs to look at , you know , what is the curriculum , what are the students learning and provide us feedback to keep us current ? They they provide us information about their pain points. You know , are they expanding ? What are they ? What are their pain points , and how can we help with that ? We also have we're very focused on equitable outcomes for students. So people who historically have not had opportunities in the Stem fields , we are bound and determined to open up doors and opportunities for folks from historically marginalized populations. And so work based learning or internships , as you might call it , um , our students generally are not able to give up paying jobs so that they can take a free unpaid internship , if that makes sense. So part of what we do is work with our business and industry , work with grant makers so that we can help support the employers in providing paid internships for our students so that literally they are employed , um , usually before they even graduate with their bachelor's degree , which is really a boon for them. Um , because our students are oftentimes single parents , uh , parents with children or have responsibilities for their families. And so that economic , um , impact that we make on families is just very , very critical. Wow.

S1: Wow. And Mira Costa College has a pretty long history. This year the school is celebrating its 90th year. Can you tell us more about how the school got started ? Yes.

S6: You know. Thank you. We are celebrating our 90th year this year , and we started simply as a wing of Oceanside High School. So we began with very humble means in 90 years ago. And we now are have expanded to serve over 28,000 students across um , North County and beyond , North San Diego County and beyond. And we offer four different sites now that pretty much specialize in what that community needs and wants , and offer everything from adult high school. So for people who did not finish their high school diploma , we have an opportunity. We operate an adult high school and provide them a high school diploma or a GED. Um , we we help people learn English , uh , prepare for college , do all kinds of , uh , associate degrees and certificate certificates , um , as well as this advanced , very intensive training that we offer in our Carlsbad site , um , which is all about advanced manufacturing , robotics , drone technologies. Um , and , you know , all of the kinds of things around marine tech and , um , just , you know , intensive training to get people into their first job or retraining opportunity.

S1: And the college really serves students from so many diverse backgrounds. Where does Mia Acosta fit into the picture ? Right now , we.

S6: Serve a very , very diverse population of students. And the largest group we now serve , about 43% or so are Latinx , and that continues to grow , uh , Hispanic , Latino. Um , our Asian Pacific Islander group is getting to be about 11% , um , white students in the 30% and , um , African American students about 3%. And I would say way more than half of our students need , uh , financial support in order to , to go to college. And about a third of them are first generation college students. So the first in their families to ever get a college degree or certificate , which , as you might imagine , takes a lot of courage to set foot on a on a college campus and to , um , take that bold step.

S1: And you've said before that the role of college has shifted in recent years.


S6: Think , um , we at Mariposa , we do a lot of thinking about the future. So we've trained ourselves really to think ten years and 20 years ahead and be prepared for that. And so one of the things that we , um , really try to hold ourselves accountable to is , you know , these institutions of higher education were made for a time when information and the source of information was very limited. You know , imagine hundreds of years ago when higher education institutions were beginning , they were meant for a time when , you know , you could only find books in fancy libraries at the university. And now we're at a place where information is incredibly prevalent everywhere you look. And so the things that we now focus on are teaching students to to really ferret through all of that information and to think critically through , you know , very much the kind of conversations we're having about artificial intelligence. We can get Ahold of a lot of information through AI , but how valuable and how accurate is that information ? That's the kind of thing we're holding ourselves accountable to. What kinds of uniquely human skills will be necessary ? Um , as we live in a world where AI becomes more and more prevalent , um , becomes more and more a part of our daily jobs.

S1: Well , speaking of which , the AI program is set to begin this fall.

S6: We are , uh , you know , because we have this long ramp to prepare for the future because we're thinking that far ahead. We had a we have a certificate and degree program in artificial intelligence , um , which also looks at the ethics and the , you know , the equity around , uh , I mean , there's a high number of , um , projected jobs that require a AI , an AI , engineers and things like that in California. Um , and so we're going to prepare people for those jobs starting this fall. We're very excited to offer that programming. And we are the it's the first , uh , degree of its kind in the state. So we're very excited to be innovating in that space.

S1: And , you know , for a lot of people , the idea of being able to work in biotech or I can it can feel very intimidating.

S6: Um , you know , as I mentioned , we have a very strong focus on racial justice and equity at Maricopa College. And so we certainly do a lot of outreach to our community , particularly to underserved communities. Um , we have a Gear Up grant that that helps us to build a college going culture among middle school students and , um , all the way through high school and college preparation and getting their family members ready for this , uh , this exciting opportunity. The other piece that is , we have a lot of supports for students. So we fundamentally believe that every student needs support , um , at some point in their educational career. And so we normalize reaching out for help. So we have a mesa , um , Stem and , and education engineering , um , support center. We have a Stem learning center where students can go to get personalized tutoring at any time of day or night. Um , we have mental health supports. We have basic needs support. So a lot of resources and support to to help our students. And obviously we try to hire faculty that reflect our community. And um , we've done a really good job of that in Stem as well as across our , our institution. And so it helps when students can see people that come from their community , that come from their background , that are excelling in these fields as well.

S1: Sonny Kirk is the president of Mira Costa College , located in Oceanside. Sonny , thank you so much for being here.

S6: My pleasure. Thank you.

S1: So that's our show for today. I'm your host , Jade Hindman. Thanks for tuning in to Midday Edition. Be sure to have a great day on purpose , everyone.

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Eugenia Fernandes assembles an underwater robot at MiraCosta College's Technology Career Institute in Carlsbad, Dec. 8, 2016.
Matthew Bowler
Eugenia Fernandes assembles an underwater robot at MiraCosta College's Technology Career Institute in Carlsbad, Dec. 8, 2016.

Much of the life science and biotech world is in San Diego this week for the BIO International Convention, one of the industry's largest events.

Though San Diego remains a major hub for the biotech industry, the sector has been hit by a wave of job losses and closures over the past year. We take a look at how the local industry is doing today.

Plus, we hear about MiraCosta Community College's efforts at opening doors to STEM careers in San Diego for its diverse student body.


Jonathan Wosen, West Coast biotech & life sciences reporter, STAT News

Natallie Rocha, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Joe Panetta, President &CEO, Biocom California

Sunny Cooke, president, MiraCosta Community College