San Diego Innovation and the Top 10 Stories of 2014

Xconomy San Diego — 

To understand the ebb and flow of innovation in San Diego over the past year, I combined a ranking of stories with the most page views on Xconomy San Diego with my own editorial curation.

Some themes are apparent in this top 10 list. The life sciences are ascendant here, with advances in genomics, stem cell therapies, and RNA drugs. Software innovation, on the other hand, has continued to ebb in the San Diego ecosystem, with lasting implications for other tech sectors.

My Top 10 Stories of Xconomy San Diego in 2014:

1) The top story of 2014 was actually published in late 2013. To help local entrepreneurs search for early stage investors, I put together a slideshow of prominent San Diego angel investors. The short profiles included a brief summary of their investment philosophy, technology focus, and some of their deals. It accumulated more page views than any other story this year.

2) At No. 2 was a scoop published in December 2013 that revealed plans by the private equity firm Vista Equity Partners to move three San Diego-based companies it had acquired in 2013 to Texas. All three (Omnitracs, Websense, and Active Network) were software-based companies, and they all moved to the Lone Star state in 2014, lured at least in part by some multi-million dollar incentives dangled by Texas Gov. Rick Perry. The ramifications for San Diego’s software sector will be felt for some time.

3) As Websense moved its Web security business to Austin, TX, there was a silver lining for a cross-town rival, iboss Network Security, which hired dozens of Websense employees who preferred to remain in San Diego.

4) Organovo (NYSE: ONVO), a San Diego life sciences startup developing 3D printing technology, said its 3D cell culture of human liver tissue was used successfully for the first time to predict that a pre-clinical drug candidate would have a toxic effect on the liver. Organovo’s breakthrough poses enormous implications for more accurate drug testing, and Xconomy San Diego experienced the year’s biggest spike in Web traffic for this one story.

5) One of the biggest innovation trends underway is the convergence of “Big Data” and genomics, and the presence of gene-sequencing titans like Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) and ThermoFisher Scientific’s Life Technologies makes San Diego an innovation hub. But the weakness of the software sector in San Diego became apparent when Human Longevity CEO Craig Venter hired Franz Och away from Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) to develop new ways to interpret raw genomic and proteomic data. Instead of establishing a computational center in San Diego, however, Venter said, “We’re just going to build on the talent base in Silicon Valley.” So Och remained in Mountain View, CA.

As an aside, it’s telling that the Och story garnered more page views than the story published four months earlier about the founding of Human Longevity itself (See No. 9 below).

A testament to the importance of genome-related technologies in San Diego is that a 2013 story about Illumina’s acquisition of Redwood City, CA-based Verinata Health continued to rank among Xconomy San Diego’s most-widely viewed stories of 2014.

6) It was big news when San Diego-based Celladon (NASDAQ: CLDN) announced that the FDA had granted its “breakthrough therapy” designation for a gene therapy treatment it has been developing for advanced heart failure. Celladon is at the vanguard of a resurgence in gene therapy technologies.

7) On another front in life sciences innovation, scientists from San Diego-based ViaCyte and UC San Diego began the first-ever clinical trial of a stem cell-derived therapy for patients with type 1 diabetes. The early stage trial is intended to test the safety of technology that ViaCyte has spent the past 12 years developing.

8) We also saw tangible advances across a broad front in RNA-related therapeutics, and one of the most dramatic stories has been unfolding at San Diego-based Solstice Biologics. Against a background of bitter lawsuits and an attempted murder, Lou Tartaglia left Boston’s Third Rock Ventures in June to step in as the CEO at Solstice. In November, Xconomy’s Alex Lash explained just how much is at stake in the breakthrough technology developed by Solstice co-founder Steve Dowdy.

9) In a Q&A that became one of the most widely read stories of the year, ServiceNow CEO Frank Slootman explained why he moved the company’s headquarters from San Diego to Santa Clara, CA. It amounted to one more ding against the capabilities of the local software sector.

10) When Human genome pioneer Craig Venter announced the founding of San Diego-based Human Longevity Inc. in March, he said the company would sequence every cancer patient who comes into the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. But Razelle Kurzrock, who is senior deputy director for clinical science at the Moores Cancer Center, tells me that regulatory issues have become a bottleneck for actually applying such genomic information.

Many more highlights of San Diego innovation could be included in this list. There is the story, for example, about a little San Diego biotech named Mapp Bio that was unexpectedly thrust to the front lines of the worst Ebola outbreak in history. There also was the extraordinary tale of how Seragon Pharmaceuticals CEO Rich Heyman made lightning strike twice by selling Seragon for $1.7 billion in July—just 12 months after selling its predecessor, Aragon Pharmaceuticals, for $1 billion.

But a New Year approaches, and my spotlight dims. Best wishes to all in 2015.

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One response to “San Diego Innovation and the Top 10 Stories of 2014”

  1. kazam says:

    Great coverage Bruce, thanks for sharing!