East LA biotech park could create “explosion of employment”

Andy McMahon (right), director of USC's stem cell research center, highlights the importance of a biotechnology park. (Photo by Steve Cohn)
Andy McMahon (right), director of USC's stem cell research center, highlights the importance of a biotechnology park. (Photo by Steve Cohn)

The competition for biotech investment is escalating, and USC President C. L. Max Nikias wants to make sure Los Angeles emerges a winner.

“Los Angeles finds itself falling behind in the race for the future of this increasingly important industry,” Nikias said at an event that brought together community, business and university leaders.

The USC leader envisions a biotechnology park in east Los Angeles on the Health Sciences Campus. The development could provide thousands of construction and biotech jobs.

“We will see an explosion of employment in many areas, and we will watch this community emerge as an attractive area for large companies and small business startups, all searching for new employees to help them grow and expand,” he said.

Nikias emphasized the Los Angeles basin’s biotech assets, including USC hospitals, research institutions and more than 5,000 university graduates in biotechnology-related fields each year.

“Now we see an unparalleled opportunity to keep this intellectual capital right here in our region,” he said.

Jobs, education and health

The event at the Eli and Edythe Broad CIRM Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC focused on the educational, employment, health and business benefits of a Biotech Park.

Speakers included Thomas S. Sayles, senior vice president for University Relations; Earl Paysinger, vice president of civic engagement; and Keck School of Medicine of USC Dean Rohit Varma.

“Building this biotech park adjacent to our campus is an exciting opportunity,” Varma said. “We have an entire population around us that is ethnically diverse, and we have a deep history of educating and fostering physicians who look for ways to bring science from the bench to the bedside and the community.”

Multiple opportunities

According to a recent report, biotechnology creates $317 billion in annual economic activity in California. Los Angeles captures about 13 percent of that, according to the trade organization Biocom, which attributes more than a million high-paying California jobs to biotech. It’s estimated that each research job in biotech creates four jobs in support roles.

Seddie McKenzie is a manufacturing technician at Grifols Biologicals, an El Sereno company that partners with USC in expanding biotech opportunities. McKenzie began her biotech career after earning a certificate in biotechnology at Los Angeles Valley College.

“There are multiple people I work with now who went through the same steps I did—they started at Grifols with a certificate as well,” McKenzie said, after leading an informational session on employment and training opportunities in biotechnology.

McKenzie, who will pursue a graduate degree in biotechnology, believes an educational pathway is open to everyone.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for people to get some work experience and decide what they want to do with their lives,” she said. “If they decide ‘I do love this, I do want to create a career with this industry,’ it can be a stepping stone.”

Mentioned in this article: Andrew P. McMahon, PhD, FRS