San Diego Biotech Cluster Attracts Swiss Company


Genomics Institute

Over each of the past ten weeks, I have written a post about the various research facilities on the Torrey Pines mesa, which as a group have developed into one of the largest concentrations of medical research institutes in the world. I’ve done my best to write posts in chronological order of when each institute was established. Over the years, San Diego’s growing biotech cluster began to receive national and then international attention.

The international significance of this concentration, which allowed fellow researchers to easily collaborate on developing new medical breakthroughs, was solidified when the Swiss based company, Novartis, laid the groundwork to create the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation in Torrey Pines.

Novartis was established in 1996 with the merger of two smaller Swiss based companies in order to become a worldwide powerhouse in the pharmaceutical industry. Within two years, Novartis announced plans to establish the Genomics Institute. The Genomics Institute of the Novartis Foundation has gone on to employ nearly 500 scientists, engineers, and support staff.

Unlike many of the other institutes lining the Torrey Pines mesa, the Genomics Institute not only performs scientific research but also develops new technology to hasten the ability of medical researchers to perform their testing. GNF Systems consists of a team of engineers and computer scientists who develop robots and other equipment for use by the Genomics Institute scientists and by those of other research institutes. They manufacture this equipment at a facility in nearby Sorrento Valley. You can get an idea of the technology being built and manufactured by GNF Systems by watching their online videos of robotic arms in action.

This is a good point to mention that the aggregation of research institutes on Torrey Pines has attracted a large base of suppliers and other service providers. This not only creates new jobs in San Diego but also solidifies our position as a world renowned biotech cluster. In the early days of Torrey Pines, you could say it was the community support and beautiful environment that attracted the early institutes to be established in San Diego. Later on, not only could new institutes rely on community support and a great local environment but collaboration with fellow scientists as well. Now, there is a whole support industry that has developed around this biotech cluster, including the supply of equipment needed to perform testing. You may read about other cities trying to create their own biotech clusters, now that medical research is seen as the ‘next big thing’, but you can be rest assured that it will be difficult for them to ‘take away’ our institutes now that San Diego has over time built a strong biotech infrastructure that is hard to duplicate from scratch.

As for scientific research at the Genomics Institute, I had a difficult time trying to figure out how to put their work into layman’s terms. This may be the same reason I did not find any lectures available for the public or programs for students like many of the other institutes I have written about. It may also due to the funding source with the Genomics Institute being a part of Novartis Corporate Research while the other institutes I’ve written about get much of their funding from the government and private individuals.

You may find interesting their research on pain. Fortunately, there is still a lot more to be done on understanding how pain is created, sensed, and communicated through our bodies. This means there should be new cures on the way for the treatment of pain.

I also found helpful their explanation on why there is still a need to research treatments for some third world diseases, for which I thought we had already found cures that allow us to avoid those diseases in developed countries. Their infectious diseases page notes,

“While there are effective treatments for such neglected diseases, there are significant reasons for continuing to search for new therapies. First of all, microbial resistance has made some of the most effective and inexpensive drug regimes unreliable and dangerous to use on severely ill patients. Second, many existing antimicrobial drugs show toxicity or are too expensive for countries where the per capita income is on the order of hundreds of dollars per year.”

That’s it for this post. Be sure to check out the series on the Biotech Cluster on Torrey Pines mesa if you are new to this blog. Have a good day.

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