Editorial: A nurturing home for biotech boom

The San Francisco-Peninsula axis has posted another significant advance in its bid to become unchallengeable as the world’s leading center for bio-technology research and production.

The latest win is that PDL BioPharma is moving its corporate headquarters from the East Bay into 450,000 square feet at two high-rise towers in Redwood City and will bring at least 500 new employees to San Mateo County in mid-2007.

PDL BioPharma currently has 1,000 employees in the U.S. and France. It develops therapies for autoimmune and inflammatory disorders, cardiovascular disease and cancer. The company will become perhaps the fourth largest biotech employer on the Peninsula, joining other major biotech campuses Amgen, Genentech and Elan.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a roster of biotechnology research firms is forming around Mission Bay, the emergent home of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which California voters funded with $3 billion to invest in potentially lifesaving stem cell therapies during the next decade.

The convergence of all these developments could be the economic mechanism that returns the Bay Area to the virtually unprecedented peak of prosperity that existed here during the brief dot-com boom. But invention and commercialization of medications to eradicate seemingly incurable diseases would appear to be a more dependable basis for long-term prosperity than selling pet food via the Internet.

Despite the good news the Bay Area already has enjoyed with its existing biotech enterprises, continued local expansion of this vital industry cannot simply be awaited without ongoing positive efforts. New businesses and laboratories will not continue setting up shop here unless their presence is nurtured.

Numerous recent economic studies have shown that what draws technology enterprises to this region, despite its admittedly high costs, is an outstanding pool of information industry workers, an inviting lifestyle and a reasonably welcoming governmental environment for business. None of these factors can be neglected.

Bay Area residents learned about negative impacts of a local economic boom during the dot-com days. Rentals and housing prices went through the roof while highway gridlock made commuting a twice-daily torture. These are difficult problems to overcome, but our recent boom-time experience could help us cope with it better this time around.

San Francisco and San Mateo counties have the potential to be highly effective natural allies in attracting the biotechnology industry. The City and the Peninsula should have the vision to join together in forming an aggressive bicounty agency to bring in the biotech giants of tomorrow.

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