Larry Bock dies at 56; biotech entrepreneur launched science festivals

Larry Bock dies at 56; biotech entrepreneur launched science festivals
Biotech entrepreneur Larry Bock helped found or finance many biotechnology companies. He created the San Diego Science Festival in 2009, as well as the USA Science and Engineering Festival. (Courtesy of USA Science and Engineering Festival)

Lawrence A. Bock, an Encinitas biotech entrepreneur who founded the San Diego Science Festival and used it as a model to create the USA Science and Engineering Festival, has died of pancreatic cancer.

He was 56.


His death Wednesday was confirmed by USA Science and Engineering, the nation's largest science festival. This year, the event drew more than 350,000 people. In a statement, the festival's executive director, Marc Shulman, called Bock a "brilliant entrepreneur" and "passionate philanthropist."

Bock was born Sept. 21, 1959, in Brooklyn, N.Y. A short time later, his family moved to Chappaqua, a hamlet in nearby Westchester County.

Bock earned a bachelor's degree in biochemistry at Bowdoin College in Maine and a master's in business administration from UCLA. His wife, Diane Bock, said he had wanted to go to medical school, but he didn't get in. Instead, he took a job at biotech firm Genentech, which was then a startup. "He worked in the lab and very soon became interested in the business side of science," she said.

Bock went on to found, advise or finance dozens of biotech companies, including Gen-Probe and Idec Pharmaceuticals. He also co-founded San Diego's Illumina, which is now the world leader in technology for sequencing genes.

"Larry was one of the best venture capitalists I have ever known," said Ivor Royston, a San Diego oncologist and managing member of Forward Ventures, a life-science venture capital company.

He said Bock also "was very concerned about the state of science and engineering education in schools. He wanted the nation to produce better scientists and to have them become more competitive throughout the world."

That impulse led Bock to establish the San Diego Science Festival in 2009. It became an annual event that today is known as the San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering. Bock also founded the USA Science and Engineering Festival to promote science, technology, engineering and math education nationally.

He told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2014: "As a society, we get what we celebrate. We celebrate athletes, pop stars and Hollywood actors and actresses, but we don't celebrate science and engineering." The festival aimed to correct that, he said.

His wife said he was proud of what the festival had become. It reflected his "love of science, entrepreneurship, jovial spirit, sense of adventure and his fondest hopes and dreams as a dad," she said.

in addition to his wife, Bock is also survived by two daughters, Quincy Bock Stokes and Tasha Bock, and his mother, Uli Proctor of Sierra Madre.

Robbins writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune