Los Angeles city and county policymakers and educational institutions laid the groundwork for a biotechnology strategy at a Feb. 26 summit on the USC Health Sciences Campus.

The Los Angeles Biotech Summit drew leaders from business, academia and government to discuss ways to build the industry and, in turn, create more jobs. Panel topics included job creation through university-spawned companies, plus economic and workforce development.

“As the Great Recession decimated U.S. job growth, one sector continued to thrive: biotechnology,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias, PhD. He has called for an ecosystem in Los Angeles that fosters business, venture capital investment and access to academic medical centers for research and clinical trials. The summit sought to build momentum behind this push in Los Angeles County.

USC and other research universities in the area brought in nearly $2 billion in research dollars in 2010 —the second-highest research expenditure total for any U.S. metro region — according to an L.A. County report on biotech. But often the discoveries are turned into new drugs or devices by companies located far away.

To counter the drain of potential biotech jobs and innovation, the County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted in November to develop a biotechnology framework. As part of that effort, leaders propose building several biotech corridors across Los Angeles County.

Thomas S. Sayles, JD, USC’s senior vice president for university relations, said biotech corridors would leverage existing academic medical centers, companies and colleges to spur economic development and job creation. One such corridor would use the Health Sciences Campus as an anchor — building on the intellectual, medical and community assets of the Keck School of Medicine of USC, LAC+USC Medical Center and pharmaceutical firms.

“If we get it right, the economic potential is enormous,” Nikias said. “The initial Biotechnology Park is expected to create 3,000 construction jobs and nearly 4,000 permanent positions, from entry-level technicians to high-wage doctorate-level scientists.”

Nikias met with County Supervisor Hilda Solis in advance to discuss their visions for the eastside corridor and building a broad-based coalition of educators, government and investors. He estimates that the corridor would be similar to San Francisco’s Mission Bay project, which will employ 30,000 people.

“All of the ingredients for Los Angeles to capture growth in this booming field are already here,” Nikias said.

“With the right alignment between government, academia and industry, we can harness the region’s existing strengths — including our science graduates — to create lasting economic growth.”

Other USC participants included Andy McMahon, PhD, provost professor and chair of the executive committee of USC Stem Cell, and Steve Kay, PhD, biochemist and dean of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

— Alicia di Rado and Eddie North-Hager