One fascinating geographic pattern jumped out at me on my last visit to San Diego a couple weeks ago. More and more of my meetings with biotech leaders are occurring in places other than Torrey Pines Mesa, the regional heart of science and home to UC San Diego, The Scripps Research Institute, the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, and others.
The geography of biotech has shifted partly as the business model has changed. Biotech has increasingly shifted toward the lean and mean virtual company model, as a way to mitigate the time, expense, and risk of setting up wet labs. While there are still plenty of companies near the scientists on the Mesa, more than a dozen virtual companies have now settled into one particular mini-cluster within San Diego, in the High Bluff Drive neighborhood.
This is certainly not the only mini-cluster within greater San Diego (the Sorrento Valley and Carlsbad immediately pop to mind) but I was curious to learn who’s setting up along High Bluff, and why it’s happening there. After all, when different skills like biology and chemistry and business development have become unbundled by the global outsourcing movement, why do virtual companies end up clustered in one place?
Mike Kamdar, the co-founder and executive vice president of VentiRx Pharmaceuticals, told me part of the reason is that there’s already a cluster on High Bluff of key service providers. He noted that Latham & Watkins is across the street from his office, while Square 1 Bank, Fish & Richardson, Comerica Bank, and Mintz Levin are all in the neighborhood. A couple of key venture firms—Domain Associates and ProQuest Investments—are there too.
“All within a couple of miles you have all the pieces you generally need to build and advance a company,” Kamdar says.
Interestingly, while San Diego has some key service providers skilled in the chemical synthesis of new drug candidates, Kamdar says it doesn’t necessarily mean that companies like his need to get that work done a couple doors down. His company recently got some important contract chemistry done by a group in Michigan that was full of veterans of Pfizer.
So who are the members of this mini-cluster of virtual biotechs on High Bluff? Here are some company names Kamdar mentioned. If you know of any others in the neighborhood, please send me a note at [email protected] and I’ll add update this post.
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