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San Diego
Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Stem Cell Institute May Boost Local Economy

If San Diego is chosen as the permanent headquarters for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, expectations are high that the institute will benefit the local economy, bolster the area’s scientific work force and help to ensure that San Diego is on the forefront of stem cell research, experts say.

“This is a trophy project in the field of corporate relocation,” said John Boyd, the president of a Princeton, N.J.-based management consultant, the Boyd Co.

“A headquarters would give the (chosen) city added prestige and enhance its reputation, along with generating good will and funds in the community,” he added.

On March 16, the San Diego CIRM Readiness Coalition, a public-private group headed by representatives of San Diego city government, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. and Biocom, an industry group, filed a bid hoping to make the Torrey Pines Science Park in La Jolla the home of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

The San Diego Coalition’s proposal includes 18,000 square feet of rent-free space at the Torrey Pines Science Park provided by Chicago-based real estate developer Slough Estates USA for 10 years, branding and public relations, transportation services and other perks totaling an estimated $10 million in free and discounted services.

A voter-approved initiative known as Proposition 71 provides the institute with $3 billion in grants to fund stem cell research for the next 10 years.

The CIRM Site Selection Subcommittee appointed to oversee the site selection process is scheduled to recommend a No. 1 site and a runner-up on April 22, with the ultimate decision being made by the institute’s Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee on May 6. The institute would move into its new home as early as May 20, according to the ICOC’s timeline.

Stephen Mulloney, director of policy for the Massachusetts Biotech Council, predicts there will end up being several stem cell hot spots around the world, much like the past progression and congregation of the biotech industry.

“California will obviously be one of those hubs,” said Mulloney. “The present leaders in biotech will be the future leaders in stem cell research.”

According to a 2004 study by the Milken Institute, San Diego received the highest biotech index score in the nation, followed closely by Boston. The score is based on biotech innovation and impact assessment, including quality of work force, amount of research-and-development dollars an area receives, and success in creating jobs, products and companies. As an already established national leader, San Diego could have much to gain from a potential added boost in biotech advancement.

Great Potential

Although stem cell research only represents roughly 2 percent to 3 percent of biotechnology investiture, Alan Dittrich, the president of the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research, remains optimistic about the potential for investment.

“It took biotech years to get going,” he said. “Nothing happens instantly. The impact is five to 10 to 15 years away. The investment (in stem cell research) is for greater growth in the future.”

Mulloney also says that looking to the biotech industry might be the best way of gauging the economic growth of stem cell development.

“Look at the biotech industry as a model,” he said. “It took many years for biotech to become profitable and make an impact.”

If stem cell research follows suit, the investment would be worth the return. Although the economic benefits are unclear, and most likely years down the road, stem cell research is a strong investment for the regions and cities pursuing it, said Mulloney.

“Stem cell research is a very promising area,” he said. “The excitement and investiture tells me it’s an area you have to be in. It’s clear to me.”

California Biomedical Research Association President Amanda Banks says that the state is a strong leader in medical research, and that the passing of Proposition 71 is significant.

“San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego, among others, will all benefit substantially,” she said. “Small research projects will be able to get grants and advance faster here.”

Banks also said that gauging the effect of stem cell research on the economy is impossible this early in its development.

Although stem cell research is still just that, research, from a medical standpoint, its future is phenomenal, said Banks. “The potential stem cell research has not just for treatment, but for prevention. You can’t even calculate that potential,” added Banks.

Banks did ascertain that once the research is through the trial stages, from a financial perspective, there would be a huge jump in development and investment in California.

From a scientific vantage point, if the CIRM does become the mother ship of stem cell research, the advantage goes to those who have access to it. Dittrich pointed out that as long as California is ahead of the game in stem cell support, generations of scientists in California schools will remain here as their research will receive grant funding.

This could be beneficial to schools such as UC San Diego, as a medical research university.

Economic Growth

If San Diego does succeed in securing the CIRM, the advantage gained by the academic community will also extend to the economy.

“The attraction of grants, private, state or federal, will help local economies, (as) companies spring up and spit out academic research,” said Mulloney.

As far as corporate relocation is concerned, startup companies would perhaps be the most likely to take advantage of being near the institute’s headquarters according to Banks. New companies would be automatically drawn to the location of the CIRM.

“If they have five places to choose from, why wouldn’t they open up next to the institute?” said Banks.

Banks said she does not, however, see a wave of already established companies relocating to the Institute’s final destination.

Besides companies and corporate offices, people in general are expected to be attracted to San Diego should it be named the home of the CIRM. Grant money from Proposition 71 is available to researchers if they relocate within California.

Although the institute itself will employ no more than 50 people, the potential nationwide draw of the facility could create a demand for a readily available pipeline of employees, said Boyd. If the San Diego stem cell industry grows, so does the work force.

But even if biotech companies and employees do not relocate to the institute’s home city, the CIRM still promises to draw visitors. Conferences will definitely bring people to the institute, said Banks. As listed among the Site Search Subcommittee’s Request for Proposal criteria, available meeting space and accommodations will be given preferable consideration.

San Diego’s proposed site for the CIRM, Torrey Pines Science Park, has both lodging and meeting accommodations nearby, creating a conference-friendly environment.

The Neuroscience Institute and Salk Institute for Biological Studies will provide meeting facilities for the CIRM at no cost, with the Institute of the Americas, UCSD’s Mandeville Auditorium and the International House offering meeting space at a discounted rate.

The Estancia La Jolla Hotel and Spa, Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines and San Diego Marriott La Jolla are among several hotels that have stepped forward to offer room rates discounted by nearly 50 percent in most cases.

The Lodge at Torrey Pines has gone one step further, offering to host two ICOC board meetings, including 25 complimentary guest rooms, car service and the waiver of the meeting room charge, a package valued at $40,000 in services.

Many in San Diego’s hospitality industry are hoping that conferences and symposiums generated by the CIRM, coupled with the prestige of already established institutions such as the Salk and Burnham institutes, would provide an extra boost in San Diego’s hospitality industry.

High-Tech Hot Spot

Of potential value to the winning city would also be the cutting edge reputation such a center would bring, said Banks. If selected, San Diego would be home to a one-of-a-kind facility, marking it as a growing and flourishing hot spot of technology.

San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Jose are among the heavy contenders that have made public their proposals to secure the institute’s headquarters, hoping eye-catching incentives such as free rent and additional grant money will swing the ICOC’s decision in their favor.

Banks says she is not sure that any one city pursuing the CIRM has a decided advantage.

“Each area has different qualities to offer,” she said. “One issue to take into consideration is employee supply; another is community support and opposition. I really don’t think one area has an edge.”

Despite the heated competition, California’s metro areas remain among a select number of cities nationwide to have the opportunity to house such a center.

“While other states are posturing to establish stem cell research programs, none will come close to the magnitude and significance of the trend-setting California institute,” said Boyd. “As a result, the new California center will raise the bar as the biotech industry enters its next phase.” Whether or not the institute would make good on the expectations and projections of those seeking to secure its headquarters, its chances of ending up in San Diego now rely on the San Diego CIRM Readiness Coalition’s proposal.

Mulloney says that San Francisco and San Diego are in direct competition as the two favorites.

“I don’t think you’ll find stem cell research isolated in an area that doesn’t already have strong biotech research,” he said. “I think San Diego and San Francisco are in a dead heat. It comes down to who makes the best presentation.”


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