02 May S.F. biotech incubator ready to hatch
Dubbed the Biomedical Development Center, plans for the incubator are not yet finalized. It is expected to launch this fall and is seeking $15 million in backing. But because there is no available lab space for it at Mission Bay yet, its founders are looking at alternative locations around the Bay Area to launch it until appropriate space becomes available at the massive Catellus development.
The timing may be fortuitous with the recent demise of Signature Bioscience, the city’s only biotechnology company, which shut its doors last month. The Biomedical Development Center is in talks with SKS Investments, the owner of 475 Brannan St., where Signature was headquartered. That would put the incubator just blocks from UCSF’s new Mission Bay campus and use the city’s only available wet lab space.
Should that fail to work out, the incubator designed to help San Francisco overcome its inability to attract biotechnology companies would most likely be forced to set up shop outside the city’s borders.
“This will form the spark plug,” said Bill Evers, a partner with Foley & Lardner and the driving force behind the establishment of the incubator. “It will be a harbinger of things to come. It will be the bell cow for getting business there.”
Aiming for profits
Though incubators have had a track record for failure, UCSF has spent two years studying them and interviewing people involved with them to determine what model would work best. As a result, the Biomedical Development Center will be structured as a for-profit rather than a nonprofit enterprise.
“Nonprofit incubators haven’t worked well. The entrepreneurial drive isn’t there. There isn’t that much management incentive,” said Evers. “Almost all of the ones connected to universities are supported by the economic development money of that community in an effort to get jobs, and it hasn’t been terribly successful. There just isn’t the accountability and discipline in a nonprofit that there is in a for-profit.”
Joseph Bouckaert, a member of San Francisco-based Titan Venture Partners’ management team, will serve as CEO of the Biomedical Development Center. Bouckaert co-founded, financed and developed several technology transfer organizations and spin-off companies in Europe and in the United States. He also served as president and CEO of Plant Genetic Systems, an Oakland-based agricultural biotechnology company that merged with DNA Plant Technology Corp. in the early 1990s.
UCSF will have no financial stake in the venture, but UCSF Executive Vice Chancellor Reg Kelly and Director of UCSF’s Office of Technology Management Joel Kirschbaum will both serve on the Biomedical Development Center’s advisory board. Foley and Lardner’s Evers will chair the advisory board, which will help decide what intellectual property from the university the incubator should pursue.
The incubator is part of a series of initiatives the university is involved with to facilitate the commercialization of intellectual property created there and to help turn Mission Bay into an economic engine for the city.
“We’re trying everything we can think of how we can get this stuff started,” said Kelly. “We don’t just want to sit on our behinds. We’re trying to take as many different approaches as we can to trigger this.”
‘Growing your own’
This is not the first attempt to put a biotech incubator at Mission Bay. At the end of 2000 the California Public Employees’ Retirement System announced plans to invest $10 million along side a $15 million investment from the San Francisco-based life sciences merchant bank Burrill & Co. to create a similar incubator, but plans fell apart just before the deal was finalized.
The latest effort is being embraced as one that can help San Francisco to become not just the home for the research and support industries for biotechnology, but help the city reach its elusive goal of becoming a home for a cluster of biotechnology companies as well.
“Most of economic development is growing your own,” said Todd Ewing, director of operations for the San Francisco Center for Economic Development, a private sector economic development agency backed by several groups including the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. “UCSF is doing that well and this gives us the mechanism for us to take what’s grown here and keep it in San Francisco rather than transplant it in South San Francisco, Emeryville or other places.”
Daniel S. Levine covers biotech for the San Francisco Business Times.