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Biotech trade group Biocom expands to L.A.

Biotech trade group Biocom expands to L.A.
Trade group Biocom counts more than 750members, including biotechs, law firms and consultants. (PR NEWSWIRE)

A San Diego trade group seeking to boost the Southern California biotech industry is now setting up shop in downtown Los Angeles, a northward shift that could step on the toes of L.A.'s own homegrown biotech association.

Biocom, established in San Diego in the early 1990s, plans to open its office here in June. Joe Panetta, the group's chief executive, said he sees the expansion as a chance to add more members and unite the two regions' biotech industries.

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"It's an opportunity to bring together the life-science entities in Los Angeles and bring that group together with the community in San Diego," he said. "It will help us bring together something we've been talking about for 10 years: a unified Southern California life-sciences community that extends from Santa Barbara to across the Mexican border."

Though Biocom is a not-for-profit organization, Panetta said the group — which counts more than 750 members, including biotechs, law firms and consultants — needs to continue to grow. A bigger organization can put on better events, draw bigger investors to its members and more effectively lobby in Sacramento and on Capitol Hill, he said.

"The power of the membership is what allows us to advocate more effectively, to attract capital, to do the successful networking events and conferences we hold," Panetta said. "The more members we can bring in to Biocom, the more successful Biocom is in doing what we set out to do."

Biocom has already been active in Los Angeles. It's one of a handful of groups working with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. on a plan to build up L.A. County's biotech industry by attracting companies to the region and helping them expand.

Dina Lozofsky, who worked at UC Santa Barbara as an associate director for licensing and business development, has been hired as executive director of Biocom's new L.A. office. For now, she's working out of the LAEDC's offices, but Biocom plans to lease an office of its own — in the same building, the Citigroup Center at 5th and Flower streets — beginning June 1.

Biocom's expansion here could come at the expense of the smaller Southern California Biomedical Council, a trade group formed in 1995 to serve L.A.'s biotech industry, which has been overshadowed for years by more robust industry hubs in San Diego and Northern California. The Biomedical Council counts fewer than 350 members.

That difference in size reflects the relative strength of the regions' biotech industries.

The L.A. area is home to a large number of biotech firms, including industry giant Amgen, but the industry here has grown more slowly than in San Diego and the Bay Area. From 2001 to 2010, biotech employment grew nearly 12% in Los Angeles County, while growth in the other two regions topped 20%, according to a 2014 report commissioned by the county.

Ahmed Enany, the biomedical council's executive director, said he sees Biocom's push into Los Angeles as part of that group's attempt to compete with a larger trade group based in San Francisco.

In 2015, the Northern California trade group Bay Area Bioscience Assn. merged with La Jolla group California Healthcare Institute, creating the statewide California Life Sciences Assn. Before the combination, Biocom and the Healthcare Institute had preliminary conversations about a merger of their own.

Enany said he was not concerned about losing members to Biocom but he believes that trade groups focused on the state's individual industry clusters — L.A., San Diego and the Bay Area — can be more effective than larger groups.

"Each cluster has its own history and requirements. Trying to manage California with one group would be unwise," he said. "Is it going to create distractions? It might, but as far as we're concerned, we'll stay the course."

Biocom CEO Panetta said he doesn't see Enany's group as a competitor.

"Many of the functions of SoCal Bio are complementary to what we're doing at Biocom," he said. "There's a lot of life-science industry to be served, and we want to work with everybody. It's a big sandbox."

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Still, there is some overlap. For instance, both groups have purchasing programs that give members access to discounts and bulk pricing, and both put on events and networking sessions.

There are other areas in which the groups provide different services. The Biomedical Council, for instance, helps biotech firms find office and lab space, a service that requires a local network and knowledge.

David Meyer, chief executive of LA BioMed, a not-for-profit research institute on the Harbor-UCLA medical center campus — and a member of both trade groups — said the two should not find themselves in direct competition.

"Both organizations are sufficiently different to coexist," he said. "Is Biocom taking over the state? No, they're just moving a little farther north. They realized there's potential here."

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