Monday, October 18, 2010

Legislator Spotlight: Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo)

Assemblyman Jerry Hill
Jerry Hill was elected to the California State Assembly in November 2008. In Sacramento, Assemblyman Hill has demonstrated an ability to reach across party lines. This year, 19 out of his 20 bills approved by the Legislature and sent to the governor received bi-partisan support. Hill chairs the Majority Caucus in the Assembly and is a member of Speaker Perez' leadership team, where he is responsible for negotiating key issues and guiding legislative priorities. As chair of the Select Committee on Biotechnology and as a member of the Committee on Improving State Government, Hill has tirelessly tackled some of the most pressing issues facing San Mateo County and California, including government efficiency and economic development. He is working closely with transportation officials and residents on issues related to the construction of a high-speed rail through San Mateo County. He has also assumed a leadership role in the investigation of the San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion and in the shaping of a legislative response.

Hill’s district includes the cities of Belmont, Brisbane, Burlingame, Daly City, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Hillsborough, Millbrae, Pacifica, San Bruno, San Mateo, South San Francisco and parts of unincorporated San Mateo County.

Q: As a legislator from San Mateo County, your interest in the biomedical industry seems quite natural. How do you promote the value of the industry to your colleagues in other parts of the state that may not have as strong a biomedical presence?

A: It’s important to start, initially, with the tremendous benefit that’s derived from the industry. I’ve been to BioMarin Pharmaceutical in Marin County, Exelixis in South San Francisco, UCSF, Edwards Lifesciences in Irvine, Life Technologies in San Diego, etc. With each one comes the realization of the life-saving products, devices and therapies, that are being developed through this industry.

The first part is making sure my colleagues and members of the Legislature are aware of what is actually happening in California. It’s important that they know these companies exist and how crucial the therapies and devices that they manufacture are to modern medicine. Each one of them should be able to identify someone in their family who has benefitted from this, whether it’s a cancer therapy from Genentech or a heart valve from Edwards Lifesciences.

Q: Do you see the potential for ramping up California's biomedical manufacturing capacity in communities hard hit by the recession in the interior parts of the state?

A: I see that as a real potential, however, I also see our tax structure as a deterrent to that. One of the stories that I tell repeatedly is the fact that Genentech, obviously a homegrown San Mateo County company, built a facility in the last year in Hillsboro, Oregon. What we’ve lost is the benefit, to some extent. When these companies begin they are local. They have local roots, they generally have families in the Bay Area and people don’t want to leave.

In this economic downturn, the biomedical sector is one of the only areas that actually increased in employment. Once legislators see the lifesaving benefit, then they can also see the economic benefit in terms of good, high paying jobs.

Q: Let's discuss Prop. 24. As you know, California has had difficulties in attracting and retaining existing companies, let alone developing missed opportunities such as biomedical manufacturing. How do you think Prop. 24 plays into that conversation?

A: I certainly don’t support it. I think its bad public policy. When I explain to anyone how the current tax structure works, in practicality, people say, “You’re kidding.” They ask, “Build a bigger plant, hire more employees, pay more money and I’m going to pay more income tax?” And, I say, “Yes, that’s true.” They don’t believe it; they think it’s crazy. But, sadly, that’s not how it’s playing out in the press or in the campaign. The biomedical business is unique. And, that’s the other part we have to convince my colleagues about, the uniqueness of biomedical industry. That it takes 10 to 15 years for a therapeutic to be developed, a billion and a half dollars and, at the end of the day, the odds of producing a successful therapy are slim.

Q: What can the biomedical industry do to better educate legislators and others about the value of our work?

A: To me, it’s a matter of communication, and I think the industry has done a good job of being there and involving legislators on issues that are important to them.

I was in Sacramento the other day and Johnson & Johnson had an exhibit at the California Museum on their biomedical devices. It was open to staff members and I went because of my involvement and interest. That’s what’s important and what I hope to work with the industry on early next session, to bring the industries either here or to organize road trips to their locations.

To sit at Edwards and watch 400 employees making heart valves, that take eight hours to make, is phenomenal. I think you have to see that and really understand the magnitude of the industry and the benefit that it brings to this state.

We have to do this early, instead of six months or a year later when this legislation affects them. By then, it’s too late.

Q: Talk a little about the importance of STEM education. I know you pushed to restore cuts to UC and CSU as part of the budget negotiations. How well are we funding science education?

A: We have done a poor job, lately, in supporting and funding science education in California, especially at the K-12 level. We don’t compensate teachers enough to bring highly trained people into the field to teach science at a level we need to develop an educated workforce. Fortunately, we have a higher education system that has been able to attract from all over the world. That is truly our lifeblood for sustaining our leadership in the sciences. We want it to be homegrown, though, and we have to put the resources to develop better science education in our K-12 and sustain it at the college level.

Q: What do you consider some of your biggest accomplishments as the Chair of the Select Committee on Biotechnology?

A: I think the biggest accomplishments have been that we have really done what we have set out to do, which is highlight the industry, to really look at it from a number of areas.

We were able to educate, inform and enlighten colleagues on the value of the industry, which is, I think the most important part. Because of term limits and how fast time flies, people don’t realize that every two years a third of that Legislature changes.

CHI-Advancing California biomedical research and innovation

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Event Spotlight: Larry Bock, Executive Director, USA Science & Engineering Festival

Larry Bock
Each year, the San Diego Science Festival plays host to hundreds of thousands of people who participate in engaging, hands-on science activities across town, concluding with a free, two-day Expo held downtown.
Planned as the West Coast’s largest science event, the festival has attracted corporate and individual donors dedicated to encouraging the nation’s youth to pursue careers focused in science, research and mathematics.
This year, following a successful San Diego event in the spring, USA Science & Engineering Festival Executive Director Larry Bock was inspired to bring the fun to our nation’s capital during October. Bock, who was the inspiration behind the popular San Diego festival, is a successful serial entrepreneur who has founded, co-founded or financed the early stage growth of 40 companies in the life and physical sciences from inception to achieving an aggregate market capitalization in excess of $30 billion.

Q: I understand this event is geared toward reinvigorating the interest of Americans in the sciences. Explain the root of the issue and how it might be reversed?

A: There is a perfect storm of events going on. Americans are not pursuing advanced science positions, and, because of H1B visa issues, we are not retaining foreigners who are trained in the area. Right now, something like 80 percent of people being trained with advanced degrees in the sciences in the United States are from abroad.
Also, the opportunities are now greater abroad. So, even if we did try to retain them, they are more motivated to go back. We have to reinvigorate the interest of Americans in science and math. And why aren’t Americans interested in it? Our premise is our society gets what it celebrates. We celebrate Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears and we generate a lot of them. But we don’t celebrate science and engineering. We need to celebrate the rock stars of science, such as computer scientists Larry Page and Sergey Brin who founded Google.

Q: Do you envision a day where we’re celebrating scientists as celebrities?

A: That’s our goal. We try to do that by having a festival where it’s a pinnacle moment for society to come together to celebrate science and engineering, art, music, film and comedy. What the festival’s organizers are trying to do is bring scientists into schools to show them that scientists really are rock stars.
This year, we’ll bring 25 Nobel Laureates into schools to have brown bag lunches with students. We also have 100 scientists to go in and really get kids excited about what scientists do.

Q: How does this event tie into classroom-based teaching?

A: Basically, we try to get these scientists to come into the schools for a presentation but then form a long-term relationship with the schools. We’re bringing in scientists like National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, AIDS researcher Tony Fauci and Paul Anastas, the “father of green chemistry” at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Science and engineering professionals will fan out across the D.C. area in October to speak about their careers at various middle and high schools.

Q: How did the San Diego Science Festival help you prepare for this year’s event in D.C.?

A: I wasn’t planning on doing it in D.C., but one of my sponsors in San Diego, Lockheed Martin, encouraged me to do it on a national scale and they gave us a huge sponsorship to do that. They said, “What would it take to make it a national event?” With the generous help of our corporate sponsors, we have raised over $2 million, along with $2.5 million in media partnerships in under a year.
In Washington, we have organizations from all over participating. We have probably over 750 organizations participating. We have approximately 150 universities. We have well over 100 professional science and engineering societies. We have about 100 government agencies and federal labs, all of which are based in Washington.

Other community-based organizations, such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and Project Lead the Way, are also participating on the premise of giving back to the community with the added bonus of learning something about science.

Q: Give me a few of the event’s highlights.

A: We have exciting guests like the MythBusters (Discovery Channel), Bill Nye the Science Guy, Storm Chasers (Discovery Channel), the inventor of the Rubik’s Cube. Then, we have the sciences of pretty much anything you can imagine, including the physics of NASCAR, the chemistry of Thanksgiving dinner, the science of Harry Potter. Through the generous contribution of time, energy and resources of our participating organizations, we are also able to offer sophisticated exhibits like virtual reality environments, surgical robots and fighter jet simulators.

Q: Give me an idea of what’s involved in the science of Harry Potter.

A: It’s actually looking at the real science behind the magic of Harry Potter. There is real science now to do cloaking, which is what Harry does when he puts on the invisible cape.

Q: How did you first get involved in this event?

A: I was taking a year abroad in Europe for fun when I saw the science festivals there. In Europe they’ve been going on for years, taking place all over England, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany. The one in India draws 1 million people to it. That was my impetus to do the inaugural San Diego Science Festival. I loved the month of activity, but, for me, the really “aha” moment was when Balboa Park was completely filled. In the Spring of 2009, the inaugural San Diego Science Festival drew 200,000 people to participate in more than 500 free activities.

Q: What will be unique about this year’s event?

A: We’re on the National Mall, from the U.S. Capitol Building to 7th street. And then we’ve closed down Pennsylvania Avenue between 12th and 14th Streets. I think we have one of the largest footprints of any expo in Washington separate from the inauguration.

Q: How many people do you anticipate will attend the event?

A: Well, of course it’s weather dependent. My goal would be for a quarter of a million people each day during the Expo Days, held Oct. 23 and 24. Our goal is also to have a million people nationwide involved in this celebration, between what we’re doing and all the satellite events going on nationwide.

Q: At the end of the day, what do you hope to achieve?

A: My dream for this event is that it will have been considered the “Woodstock of science.” Hopefully, with less rain.

Click here to find out all the details of this year’s event already underway in Washington, D.C.

CHI-Advancing California biomedical research and innovation

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Executive Spotlight: Terry Gregg, President and CEO DexCom

Terry Gregg, DexCom President & CEO
Terrance H. Gregg is president and chief executive officer of DexCom Inc. He is also a special venture partner with Galen Partners, a private equity firm specializing in the healthcare industry. In 2002, he retired as president of Medtronic MiniMed, a world leader in diabetes management systems. He became president and chief operating officer of MiniMed Inc. in 1996 and was instrumental in Medtronic's $3.4 billion acquisition of MiniMed in 2001. He also served in executive positions with Smith and Nephew and Allergan Inc. Gregg served as the 2003-2004 Chair of the Research Foundation Board of the American Diabetes Association. He received his bachelor’s of science from Colorado State University in 1971. In 2003, Gregg and his wife were recognized by the American Diabetes Association with an award for Outstanding Service in Diabetes Research Funding.

Q: Share with me a brief history of DexCom and some of the important milestones of the company.

A: Dexcom designs, develops, and commercializes continuous glucose monitoring systems for managing diabetes. The company was really founded in 1999. The premise of that original founding was to develop a fully implanted subcutaneous sensor that would reside in place, in the abdomen, for upwards of a year, maybe 18 months. At the time, reliable, home-based continuous glucose monitors had yet to hit the market.

But by the mid 2000s, it was clear that the opportunity for a home based continuous glucose monitor that provided real-time values to the patient was going to be big.

Around 2003, it became apparent to the company that the amount of resources, capital, etc., in order to commercialize that product, would be more than the company could raise. But they took the lessons learned and the knowledge and then converted the product into an ambulatory one, for use at home.

A three-day sensor was approved by the FDA in March 2006.
About a year later, June in 2007, the product was then extended to seven days. That became what we call the Seven System. In March 2009, the next generation, the Seven Plus System was approved by the FDA. That’s a product we have on the market today. The fourth generation sensor is currently pending PMA review by the FDA.

Q: You spent most of your career with Medtronic before retiring. What brought you out of retirement to join DexCom?

I have, personally, been pursuing a hospital glucose sensor since around 1997. One of the reasons I came out of retirement to join DexCom was that I believed that they had a sensor that would be adequate for that intensive care environment. Studies show that when a patient's blood glucose level is high for prolonged periods, recovery from surgery takes longer and the risk of infection increases. Currently, tight glycemic control is achieved by obtaining samples every 30 to 60 minutes, however this testing practice may be too intermittent and cumbersome.
So, we developed a blood-dwelling sensor that goes into a peripheral vein for continuous glucose monitoring and we licensed that technology in co-development to Edwards Lifesciences for the ICU. It is pending before the FDA although it has received CE marks in Europe.

Q: What other work has been going on at DexCom?

A: We’ve engaged in two relationships with pump companies, one being J&J Animus (that product will go into the FDA at the end of this year) and the second relationship is with Insulet Corp., which has a disposable insulin infusion system called the Omnipod. That product is actually pending review before the FDA now.

Q: What would you like to call attention to when it comes to diabetes?

A: I think that the most compelling thing that one can do now is to encourage patients to take on their own responsibility for the treatment of their disease. If you look at what the future holds, we’re not going to be able to adequately afford the care that patients will need. Unfortunately, diabetes is growing at a rate that we can’t stop it. We have to educate patients and patients have to be more demanding.

Q: Given what we know and how much work has left to be done, how far are we from an artificial pancreas? One that can monitor blood glucose levels in real-time and respond to them by releasing insulin just as a normal pancreas would?

A: I would say we’re in the five- to 10-year horizon to get to a semi-closed loop system. We’re also unfortunately dealing with a regulatory arena that is more restricted than we’ve seen in a long time. I think two things are going to happen. There will be delays in development in the U.S. And, at the same time, we’re all looking outside the U.S. as fertile ground to move our newer technology. But reimbursement is a concern. It’s an interesting dynamic that we are going to struggle with at least for the next four years, in my opinion.

Q: DexCom recently worked with the FDA on changes sought by the agency in the way DexCom labels certain glucose monitoring devices. Any advice for companies going through similar issues?

A: Read all the guidance documents you can and interpret them in the most conservative way you can. I think the second thing is be very proactive but cooperative with the agency. Working to a joint conclusion that is in the best interest of the patient is really what the FDA wants. I think companies want that as well. Certainly we continue to have what I consider to be a fabulous relationship with the agency. Even in spite of the warning letter, there was no interruption of the review of our files.

Q: What are you doing when you’re not in the office?

A: This isn’t a job; this is a passion. I get to do this. Certainly, I have fun. We have adult children and two grandkids that live in San Diego County. We have a beautiful sailboat that I get down to once in awhile. Certainly, I am blessed in that I have been remunerated more than I ever should be. My wife and I are strong philanthropists. To date, I think we’ve given over $2 million to diabetes research and we will continue to do things of that nature. It’s something we believe very strongly in. When you are blessed like that you should give back.

CHI-Advancing California biomedical research and innovation

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