South City officials ‘confident’ in its draw for biotech

S.F.’s Mission Bay not seen as competition, despite FibroGen’s move north

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO — Despite FibroGen’s decision to leave the “birthplace of biotechnology” for the glitzy Mission Bay campus in San Francisco, South San Francisco officials remain confident that their city is the city when it comes to the burgeoning industry.

FibroGen, a drug company focusing on therapies for fibrotic disorders, announced Wednesday that it is leaving its 106,000-square-foot space in the area east of U.S. Highway 101 that houses many biotech companies for a 239,000-square-foot space — with another 211,000 square feet available to them — at the University of California San Francisco’s new Mission Bay campus.

City officials wished the company well, stressing that they’ve lost other companies before. They expressed little concern about competition from San Francisco for business and its potential effects on the city’s reputation as a main hub for the industry.

“Most definitely we’re going to miss [FibroGen], but most definitely, others will want to move into our city,” Mayor Joe Fernekes said. “I’m really happy that both the No. 1 and No. 2 companies (Genentech and Amgen) in the world want to reside in our city.”

South San Francisco has more than 70 biotech companies, Assistant City Manager Marty Van Duyn said, and the city’s surveys and analysis indicates a demand for space that will see FibroGen’s facilities on Gateway Boulevard filled quickly.

“I’m not particularly shaking in my boots because Mission Bay seems to be catching on,” Van Duyn said. “I’m not that concerned as long as we maintain the ability to be a regional presence.”

“If [FibroGen] was leaving for New Jersey, I would show more concern,” he added.

FibroGen Inc. began in 1993 and moved to South San Francisco from Sunnyvale in 1996.

The company is advancing into clinical testing of oral therapies for anemia, among others. It expects to grow from its 190 full-time employees to between 300 and 400 workers in 2008 when they move into Mission Bay, spokeswoman Laura Hansen said.

“It’s an expanding biomedical research park, and it’s a very unique environment that we want to be a part of,” Hansen said. “It’s really about meeting our need for increasing scale.”

San Francisco has been aggressive in trying to bring in biotech companies to the campus, Fernekes said, but he maintained that South San Francisco is the “front-runner” in the industry.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom actively recruited FibroGen to the campus. At the tail-end of 2005, San Francisco passed a biotech payroll tax exemption, giving companies more incentive to move to Mission Bay.

dsmith@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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