Xconomist of the Week: Five Questions with Biocom CEO Joe Panetta

Xconomy San Diego — 

Joe Panetta is a 30-year biotech veteran on both sides of the interface between business and government regulators. He’s spent close to half of that time as president and CEO of Biocom, the San Diego-based regional life sciences industry association. Panetta also happens to be the latest member of the local innovation community to join the pantheon of San Diego Xconomists.

Biocom was officially created in 1995 with the merger of two precursors, the San Diego Biocommerce Association and the Biotechnology Industry Council. Panetta joined the trade group in 1999 and has played a key role in guiding and strengthening San Diego’s life sciences community. Today Biocom has more than 550 corporate members, an experienced staff, and a 60-member board of directors. Panetta oversees programs in capital formation, public policy, workforce education, and other member services. He also serves as chairman of the California Biotechnology Foundation, a joint initiative to inform legislators and the media about California’s life sciences industry.

He recently agreed to field some questions from Xconomy about the economic vitality of Southern California’s life sciences sector, the relative scarcity of startup capital here, and why he’s watching over the horizon for what’s happening in China.

Xconomy: What are the vital signs that you use to track the health of the life sciences industry in Southern California?

Joe Panetta: I look at grant funding to universities and research institutes; company formation; VC funding; jobs created and maintained, and Biocom membership numbers. These are all holding solid or are up from last year. In addition, I look at the Biocom Purchasing Group, which offers discounted lab supplies and other products to member companies, to determine how much companies are spending on those items, and we are at an all-time high there. I look at the degree to which large pharmas are creating or growing their presence here. I’ve stopped looking at IPOs because that window has been shut for a while now.

If there’s an area where I have some concern it’s the important indicator of products approved by the FDA. There’s been a trend downward nationally in that number for several years in both drugs and device, and that’s not a positive sign. Still we’ve had some success stories there such as Cadence, Optimer and Somaxon. We’ve recently released a survey on the relationship between the industry and the FDA, done in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), and it raises some alarming concerns. We’ve been actively working with FDA and with our national organization partners as well as Congress to offer some potential solutions.

X: Does Southern California lack any of the essential ingredients needed to make a metro area’s life sciences cluster grow? What are those ingredients?

JP: If we’re lacking in anything I think it’s … Next Page »

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