Una Ryan to Spearhead New Bay Area BioEconomy Initiative

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Una Ryan spent much of her biotech career doing what she could to build organizations in Boston. Now she’s going to do what she can to connect various pieces of the biotech puzzle at a new nonprofit in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Bay Area BioEconomy Initiative is the new group with Ryan as its full-time chairwoman. Over the past year, Tony Coles, the former CEO of South San Francisco-based Onyx Pharmaceuticals, helped rally various players from around the Bay Area to this new idea. The group of backers now includes Deloitte, Onyx (now part of Amgen), BayBio, Agilent Technologies, Alta Partners, Bayer, BioCentury Publications, DLA Piper, the Gladstone Institutes, Johnson & Johnson, Oncomed Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, Stanford University, and UC-San Francisco.

The idea is for the BioEconomy initiative to help pull together and more effectively link a few of the healthcare assets that spread around the vast area of Northern California. Ryan’s agenda will be to coordinate the various for-profit and nonprofit groups, in the name of speed. The hope is to quicken the pace of clinical trials, of drug discovery, of brainstorming around areas of patient need, and of integrating cool apps and digital technologies into routine medical practice.

“I’m going to jump in with both feet and give this as much time as it takes,” Ryan says. “I’m a real proponent of the idea that you have to foster your environment, your community around you, not just your company or your university. We’re trying to bring people together.”

While many in West Coast biotech seek to play down any regional competition angle, the new initiative is being hatched at a moment when the Bay Area can no longer say it will forever be No. 1 in biotechnology. Boston, the capital of East Coast biotech, has captured much of the industry momentum the last few years and many Big Pharma R&D jobs.

Ryan, who moved to the Bay Area a little more than a year ago, says she will continue to serve as a managing director of Golden Seeds, an investment group that focuses on backing women-led companies. She’s a cell and molecular biologist by training, and the former CEO of Diagnostics for All, Waltham Technologies, and Avant Immunotherapeutics. During her long career in Boston, Ryan became familiar with trade association work, as chair of MassBio.

Her move from Boston to the Bay Area, partly made to be closer to her grandchildren, intrigued me when I spoke to Ryan earlier this year about her perceptions of how each regional biotech cluster is different.

The initiative has taken care to make sure it’s filling gaps in the community, and not stepping on toes of other groups like BayBio or the California Healthcare Institute, Ryan says. That’s why it has focused on things like bringing more of the digital health community in the Bay Area together with the biotech community. “Dr. Ryan has a proven track record of establishing life science companies and building successful cross-sector collaborations focused on improving health through innovative solutions,” Coles said in a statement.