UCSD Proposes Innovator Space as Entrepreneurial Life Sciences Hub

Xconomy San Diego — 

Officials at UC San Diego are seeking to build a new “Center for Innovative Therapeutics” that would serve as a hub for a variety of academic research collaborations, as well as an incubator for accelerating private life sciences startups.

University officials described their proposal for the first time at the end of an annual cancer symposium held yesterday at the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. They said they plan to present their plans for the project, which carries an estimated $110 million pricetag, to the University of California Regents in May.

About half of the three-story, 110,000-square-foot facility would be made available for private life sciences startups, according to Thomas Kipps, interim director of the Moores Cancer Center. The center, which Kipps calls “the innovator space,” would be affiliated with Moores. The UCSD proposal calls for building the facility on a 6.3-acre lot between the Moores Cancer Center and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology that is part of the UC San Diego Science Research Park.

Kipps says funding for the project already has been secured from “UC century bonds.” The University of California sold an $860 million taxable bond offering last month. The 100-year bonds yield 4.858 percent, or slightly more than 30-year U.S. Treasury bonds. If regents approve the project, UCSD could move forward quickly on design and construction. The project is tentatively slated for completion in mid-2015.

Kipps says the project was conceived less than a year ago during a meeting with UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox. “We wanted to see if we could develop something that was similar to an incubator she had done at [North Carolina State University] that was very successful,” Kipps says. (Fox was the first female chancellor of the Raleigh, NC, campus before she was named to head UCSD in 2004.) The proposal quickly drew two dozen “letters of interest” from local biotechs, pharmaceutical companies, and contract research organizations (CRO) that support the idea, including a CRO that wants to come in as an anchor tenant, Kipps says.

Kipps and Fox presented the plan to attendees at the 8th Annual Moores Cancer Center Industry/Academia Translational Oncology Symposium mostly to get industry feedback. “We’d very much appreciate your interest and feedback as we go through the planning phase,” Kipps says. He explained that the UC San Diego Science Research Park was established in a way that allows the university to form partnerships and collaborate with private companies—and such collaborations were intended to be a key feature of the project.

The university officials revealed the proposed innovation center roughly three months after Johnson & Johnson opened its new Janssen Labs startup space within its revamped San Diego Janssen Research & Development facility. J&J is making about 30,000 square feet of lab and office space available to 18 or 20 startups—at no cost, and with no strings attached.

The proposed UCSD facility would be only a few miles away. It would include university research laboratories focused on genomics research, a small-animal vivarium, a GMP manufacturing center that could be used to produce stem cell products for clinical studies, and a biorepository, Kipps says.

Roughly 55,000-square feet of space within the facility would be available for private life sciences ventures that could range from a few researchers to venture-funded startup companies developing new drug compounds, medical devices, or diagnostics. Startups would be able to share the vivarium, GMP manufacturing center, and other resources, as well as mass spectrometers and other costly biomedical research equipment at the Moores Cancer Center. The private companies also would share administrative support, conference rooms, and similar workplace amenities.

UCSD Moores Cancer Center

Among other things, Kipps says, the Center for Innovative Therapeutics is intended to:

—Promote transdisciplinary research and rapidly translate discoveries from the research lab to the patient

—Improve UCSD’s ability to diagnose, stratify, and or treat patients with cancer. The Moores Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated “comprehensive cancer center” in the San Diego region.

—Understand the basis for the success or failure of new targeted therapies.

—Prevent disease in populations at risk by genetic and/or environmental factors.

While it’s not yet clear exactly how the center will operate within the University of California system, Kipps indicated that he likes some aspects of Accelerator Corp., the Seattle-based life sciences incubator launched in 2003 by the non-profit Institute for Systems Biology, venture investors, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, and others.

During a panel discussion that followed Kipps’ presentation, Accelerator CEO Carl Weissman said the Seattle program was created “to identify, evaluate, fund, and manage the very most exciting biotech startups from anywhere in the world.” Later Kipps told me he wants UCSD’s proposed innovation center to do that, too.

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