Live! Anderson & Ferrara Headline Rock Stars of Innovation Summit

Recession gripped the nation in early 2009, and many startups in San Diego were locked in a desperate struggle to survive. So Connect CEO Duane Roth inaugurated a showcase event for local startups that was initially billed as The La Jolla Research & Innovation Summit. Roth defied conventional wisdom, which was intimidated by the liquidity crisis, rallying local innovation leaders to bring out-of-town VCs to San Diego, and tapping renowned local scientists like J. Craig Venter and Larry Smarr to remind everyone there was still plenty of fuel in San Diego’s engine of innovation.

Since then, the economic picture in San Diego has improved, and Xconomy has joined forces with Connect to update the signature event, now known as the Rock Stars of Innovation Summit. The summit will be held April 12 at San Diego’s Hard Rock Hotel, to be preceded the previous night by a VC jam session and networking event.

3D Robotics CEO Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson

The first keynoter to take the stage will be Chris Anderson, who resigned last summer as the longtime editor in chief of Wired magazine to devote his energies to an emerging industry as the  founder and CEO of 3D Robotics. The startup, which is based in the Bay Area, San Diego, and Tijuana, is straining to meet strong demand for its robotic aircraft, sensors, and technology. Enthusiasts just can’t seem to get enough DIY Drones—leading Anderson to famously compare the current market for “personal drones” to the early fervor for personal computers among members of Silicon Valley’s Homebrew Computer Club.

How strong is the demand? Market research by the Teal Group estimates that worldwide spending on unmanned aerial systems will hit $11.4 billion by 2022. In a blog entry last June, Anderson wrote that probably 1,000 new personal drones take to the sky every month. More recently, he told The New York Times that every three months, 3D Robotics alone is selling about 7,500 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—a number that he said is roughly equivalent to the total number of UAVs the U.S. military is flying… everywhere!

Meanwhile, Congress has asked the FAA to write regulations governing civil operation of small drones in U.S. airspace by Sept. 30, 2015, and privacy experts are raising concerns about our emerging surveillance culture. For example, they note the DARPA-funded Argus camera, developed for use aboard small drones, has a resolution of 1.8 gigapixels and is capable of identifying objects as small as six inches from a height of 17,000 feet. As Amie Stepanovich of the Electronic Privacy Information Center told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, “Drones may also carry infrared cameras, heat sensors, GPS sensors that detect movement, and automated license plate readers”—and some day they could carry facial recognition technology as well.

So there’s a lot of ground to cover. But we’re confident Anderson can file a flight plan to avoid all the hazards.

Napoleone Ferrara, UCSD Moores Cancer Center

Napoleone Ferrara

The summit’s closing keynote, which is intended to serve as a bookend to Anderson’s opening talk, will be given in the early afternoon by Napoleone Ferrara, the UC San Diego cancer scientist who received the $3 million “Breakthrough Prize” awarded in February by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and a handful of other Silicon Valley billionaires.

Ferrara, who came to UC San Diego last year after a long career at Genentech, has said he was “very much astonished” when Apple chairman and Breakthrough Prize Foundation president Art Levinson called to tell him he had won the $3 million award. “I didn’t know the award existed,” Ferrara said—and neither did the other 10 recipients of the inaugural prize.

Ferrara, who is officially the senior director for basic sciences at the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, gained renown for his breakthrough studies of the formation of blood vessels that feed tumors—work that figured prominently in the development of the cancer drug Avastin. He later advanced that research further through the development of Lucentis, a drug that has helped some patients with macular degeneration regain their sight.

In addition to describing what it’s like to hang out with billionaires like Zuckerberg and Google co-founder Sergei Brin, Ferrara will talk about new areas for hope in cancer research, such as the emerging class of drugs that block the activities of kinase proteins.

Sandwiched between the keynote talks at the beginning and the end is a lot of meaty content.

—Peppi Prasit, the founder and CEO of San Diego’s Inception Sciences, will talk with Versant Ventures’ Jerel Davis about their decision to create an assembly line of drug development programs. Their new business model enables Inception Sciences to get separate VC funding for each drug candidate, and to spin each one out as an independent company.

—Flagship Ventures’ Avak Kahvejian and HLM Venture Partners’ Marty Felsenthal will discuss alternative funding models for venture capital.

—Rick Valencia of Qualcomm Life and Lisa Suennen of the venture firm Psilos Group (and a San Francisco Xconomist) will talk about finding a new business model for startups developing wireless health devices and technologies.

—Ben Cravatt, chairman of the department of chemical physiology at The Scripps Research Institute, and Melissa Fitzgerald, who heads strategic research partnerships at Pfizer, will discuss the “R&D Fusion” taking place through new drug discovery partnerships.

We’ve also arranged for three rock stars of biomedical research to describe the future they see in companion diagnostics and personalized medicine. It’s clear to most people now that genomic sequencing is becoming an increasingly important factor in deciding which treatment option offers the best chance of success for a particular patient with a particular type of cancer. As treatments become increasingly specialized, though, it means that different types of cancer will be divided into more and more subcategories, each one determined by a specific genetic mutation or signaling pathway.

Scott Lippman

“What this is doing is making everything a rare disease,” said Scott Lippman, whose appearance comes less than a year after he was named director of the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. As that happens, Lippman told me he foresees that it will become increasingly difficult to carry out clinical studies of new cancer therapies. As treatments become increasingly specialized, he said, “it could take you a year to get one patient enrolled in your study.” In cases where a dominant genetic driver of mutation has not been determined, Lippman said he foresees “escalating complexity” as medical teams try to analyze enormous data sets in a quest to choose the optimal treatment.

Lippman will be joined by Cyrus Mirsaidi, CEO of Molecular Response; Mark Stevenson, president and COO of Life Technologies; and Kim Kamdar, a partner in the San Diego office of Domain Associates.

Interspersed throughout this lollapalooza of innovation will be a series of quick presentations by local “garage band” startups: DermTech, MetraLabs, Tricopian, Tellus Technology, Soccerly, Ten8Tech, Nasseo, and JET Surgical.

If it sounds like a jam-packed summit, all I can say, is, hey man, that’s just the way rock stars roll. More information and online registration is here.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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