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Dec 17, 2015
 |  BC Innovations  |  Strategy

San Diego ceiling

New academic leadership in San Diego aims to amp up cluster's translational power

A decade ago, San Diego sat poised to compete with Boston and San Francisco as one of the nation's top biotech hubs, with Biocom, the local industry organization, making a priority of luring investors to the region to seed new businesses. While industry is still struggling to change its bronze place position, the academic centers are recruiting top talent and ramping up activities to capitalize on their science.

On Jan. 1, Elizabeth Blackburn will take the helm as president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, replacing retiring incumbent William Brody. Blackburn, who spent the last 26 years on the faculty at the University of California San Francisco, received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her work on telomeres, and in 2010 co-founded Telomere Diagnostics Inc.

Blackburn's appointment is the region's fourth high-profile hire in the last 18 months.

In September, The Scripps Research Institute named Peter Schultz CEO and Steve Kay president. Schultz is director of the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr), where he has retained his position, and Kay was dean of the college of letters, arts and sciences at the University of Southern California. Both have founded multiple companies.

And in 2014, Perry Nisen joined Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute as CEO after 10 years at GlaxoSmithKline plc.

While Schultz, Kay and Nisen all have a strong translational focus, Blackburn is known primarily for her interest in basic research.

But together, the moves are part of a trend among the region's academic organizations to build their names in translational science, as they try to mimic the success of regions like the Bay Area and Boston in commercializing their discoveries.

The drive also includes the region's fourth big academic center, the University of California San Diego, according to Gerald Joyce, director of the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF).

He told BioCentury there's a definite move to "beef up" the clinical facilities on campus, streamline processes and ensure "the faculty that choose...

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