The COVID-19 pandemic made a simple fact painfully clear: Our world is smaller and more connected than ever before, meaning that dangerous viruses and other communicable diseases can travel faster and farther than at any other time in human history. The question isn’t whether a new virus or strain will threaten us. The question is when.
How will society confront such an epic challenge?
Thankfully, a robust and innovative life science community is built on close collaboration among companies, universities, research institutes and all levels of government. It is this very community that has been at the forefront of battling the current pandemic, and it is this community that will lead the charge preparing for the next.
It is unimaginable to think of where we might be today without the biotech industry. A study released in April by Yale University and the Commonwealth Fund had remarkable takeaways: Between December 2020 and March 2022, the U.S. vaccination program averted more than 2.2 million deaths and more than 17 million hospitalizations and saved nearly $900 billion in associated health care costs.
And here in San Diego, biotech companies have played a critical role in the fight against COVID-19. San Diego is home to several of the leading COVID-19 test manufacturers, including Genalyte, Mesa Biotech and Truvian Sciences. Quidel developed the first coronavirus antigen test to receive emergency use authorization, and Helix worked hand-in-hand with San Diego County government to process thousands of samples from testing sites.
In January 2020, scientists used Illumina technology to determine the first genetic sequence of the virus in just a few days — the sort of feat that once took months. Meanwhile, scientists at the San Diego office of Eli Lilly and Co. led the development of the first authorized neutralizing antibody therapy for COVID-19 (which the company found helped reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by up to 70 percent), and Gilead currently leverages a Ligand Pharmaceuticals technology to administer remdesivir, an antiviral medication approved to treat COVID-19 in certain situations. What’s more, The Scripps Research Institute and La Jolla Institute for Immunology are also both developing pan-coronavirus vaccines that could transform the body’s immune response to the virus’s ever-changing mutations and protect people from new COVID-19 variants as well as even future coronaviruses.
As this illustrates, San Diego is one of the hubs of the nation’s life science ecosystem. That fact is also supported by the return this month — for the fifth time in 21 years — of BIO International Convention, one of the largest global events in biotech. BIO 2022 will draw thousands of scientists, entrepreneurs, researchers and journalists from around the world and across the life science landscape to discuss the future of the industry and the ways biotech improves our world and our quality of life.
Attendees will find themselves in a city whose life science community extends across research and manufacturing, medical devices and equipment, and traditional biopharma drug development. Biotech is booming in our region, and it shows no signs of slowing down. According to a recent Biocom California report, San Diego County’s life science industry generated almost $28 billion in gross regional product and employed more than 72,000 people in 2020 — serving as one of the most significant economic drivers in the region. San Diego also received nearly $1.2 billion in funding from the National Institutes of Health, helping fuel research efforts in the region.
Countless academic and research institutions, companies and organizations working on life sciences and biotechnology are woven into the city’s fabric, and the industry prospers because San Diego maintains a collaborative and intensely cooperative business culture. Elected officials support our industry through smart policy making, while a steady flow of venture capital funding and a strong local talent pool ensure that companies of all shapes and sizes can thrive.
With early discovery and decisive actions, society can limit the spread of the next new virus, as it did with SARS-CoV in 2002, H1N1 in 2009 and MERS-CoV in 2012. We have no doubt that San Diego’s life science ecosystem will be at the center of these future efforts. In the meantime, the region will continue its groundbreaking work in shaping the future of human health around the globe.