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Life Sciences Firms Lean on Global Operations to Keep Running

Scientists countywide shut down their labs and hung up their coats last week as a precautionary measure to avoid danger from last week’s wildfires, which scorched hundreds of thousands of acres and prompted dramatic evacuations.

Most of the biotech and medical device companies interviewed said they didn’t expect to lose much money as a result of their decisions to close because they were able to shift operations across the nation and throughout the world. Today’s scientific community relies on a global network of manufacturers, distributors and customer service agents who work together to keep products and services on pace.

“We didn’t lose anything except for delays in order fulfillment,” said Matthew Borer, a spokesman with Poway-based ResMed Inc., which makes products that allow people with sleep disorders to breathe more easily.

Officials ordered mandatory evacuations in the area, and nearby Pomerado Hospital, which is also in Poway, was closed.

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Borer said calls to place orders with ResMed were rerouted to a North Carolina office.

ResMed, like many life sciences companies, relies on a web of operations spread throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

The medical device company manages 18 offices in 68 countries, along with a network of distributors.

“One of the benefits of being a truly global organization is we are not overly reliant on one country, much less one location within that country,” Borer said.


Putting Employees’ Safety First

Based just outside the evacuation zones, Carlsbad companies Invitrogen Corp. and Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc. closed their headquarters early last week to ensure the safety of employees.

Invitrogen, which supplies life sciences companies, academic institutes and government agencies worldwide with research-and-development tools, notified customers through e-mail and Web alerts that although its headquarters were closed, it would continue to ship products from the company’s East Coast location and warehouses worldwide.

“We’re a global business and business continued at our other sites,” said Farnaz Khadem, a spokeswoman with Invitrogen.

Invitrogen operates manufacturing and distribution offices in more than 70 countries. Calls to customer service were handled as usual through the company’s Grand Island, N.Y., site, while technical service calls were rerouted across the country.

“We’ve really tried to minimize our dis & #173;rup & #173;tions to our customers,” Khadem said.

Isis spokeswoman Amy Blackley said its operations were largely unaffected because its management team was able to work from a temporary site in Sedona, Ariz. Isis develops drugs to treat cancer, as well as eye, cardiovascular, metabolic, inflammatory, viral and neurodegenerative diseases.

Companies in Sorrento Valley, an area heavily populated with life sciences firms, took extra precautions and closed operations after emergency officials ordered voluntary evacuations.

By midweek, however, some life sciences employees had returned to work.

“I don’t think there’s been an enormous business loss in terms of productivity,” said Joe Panetta, president and chief executive officer of biotechnology trade organization Biocom.

He said scientists have been diligent in handling crises at home and keeping up with experiments conducted in the laboratories.


Companies That Care

Panetta said he was especially impressed by the outpouring of support on the part of biotech corporations and their employees. Two biotech relief funds were established through the efforts of Invitrogen and Biocom, with the financial support of Pfizer and Genentech, with the San Diego Foundation.

“I’ve been doing this job for eight years, and, when we had the fires in 2003, the response was no less immediate this time,” Panetta said.

San Diego Foundation spokeswoman Sara Napoli said the fund had already generated tens of thousands of dollars in donations.

“We are out in the community as we speak, visiting the sites and assessing how we might distribute these funds,” she said.

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