Bayer Corporation
Berkeley Biotechnology Industry Rapidly Expanding

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Berkeley Business Briefs
Berkeley Biotechnology Industry Rapidly Expanding

(Berkeley, CA) – August 1999.  The biotechnology industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the Bay Area. This sector is research based and has found the East Bay to be an ideal location due to its good transportation linkages along the I-80 corridor and proximity to U.C. Berkeley and other research institutions. Two of the three largest biotech/biopharmaceutical firms in the Bay Area, Chiron (in Emeryville) and Bayer (in Berkeley) are located in the East Bay’s biotech corridor. Other smaller firms, which are busy developing an array of biotech-based products, have also chosen to locate in the East Bay. Over 13,000 employees work in biotech firms in the Bay Area, with over 3,000 employees in East Bay firms.

Larger pharmaceutical companies like Bayer and Merck still dominate the industry. However, increasingly the larger companies, which produce and market a range of products, rely on smaller firms to discover and develop new technologies that the larger firms would not be likely to tackle. Drug development is a long and risky process. Smaller biotech companies are pioneering new of researching and testing methods to discover new products and speed up obtaining Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and bringing them to the market.

Berkeley has become a center for biotechnology research and production. The Bayer Corporation recently announced that it will expand its Berkeley production plant over the next few years, possibly increasing employment to1,600 employees. Bayer develops and produces protein-based pharmaceuticals at its Berkeley plant. For example, Bayer produces a product known as Factor 8 in Berkeley, an important product for the treatment of over10,000 persons throughout the world who suffer from hemophilia. Bayer recently relocated the research facility that supports its Berkeley plant from Connecticut to new lab space at 717 Potter Street in West Berkeley.

The new 98,000 square foot biotech building at 717 Potter Street also houses another biotech company, Dynavax Technologies. Dynavax is focusing its initial development efforts on therapeutics for the treatment of allergies and asthma. Dynavax was founded to develop a series of discoveries stemming from research at U. C. Berkeley. These technologies are based upon an understanding of how the human body responds to antigens and foreign substances. They provide the ability to treat a wide variety of inflammatory illnesses affecting large numbers of people worldwide. Dynavax has 15 employees in Berkeley.

Over the past several months two biotech firms, Roche Diagnostics and PIC, have relocated to new quarters at 2929 Seventh Street, formerly the site of the Langendorf Bakery. Roche Diagnostics occupies 42,000 square feet with 80 employees. Roche’s Chief Technology Office researches new technologies for treatment of rare cell disorders. Roche’s Molecular Biochemical Group relocated to the Berkeley site from Indianapolis. Roche chose the Berkeley site over several other competing sites in the Bay Area based upon its central location in the East Bay biotech corridor and proximity to U.C. Berkeley. Roche has 80 employees in Berkeley. PIC is involved with increasing the effectiveness of pig breeding. PIC relocated its headquarters to Berkeley from London, England, and has 25 employees.

An early entrant in Berkeley’s biotech community was XOMA, a biopharmaceutical company located in the Aquatic Park complex on Seventh Street. XOMA started in Berkeley in1981. XOMA’s products target bacterial and fungal infections, infectious complications of traumas and surgery, and immunological disorders. The company has completed most of the final round of FDA testing of one product (Neuprex) and is teaming up with Genetech to finish the testing of another product later this year. XOMA has 160 employees in Berkeley.

Wareham Properties has been a key player in development of space for Berkeley’s emerging biotech industry. The firm has developed a niche in the high end specialty laboratory market along the I-80 corridor from Point Richmond to Emeryville. In the late 1980’s, Wareham created space for biotech operations in its Aquatic Park complex in West Berkeley. More recently Wareham developed and marketed 717 Potter Street and 2929 Seventh Street for biotech firms.

Through its close work with biotech firms, the City of Berkeley has been able to assure that the Berkeley community benefits from employment opportunities generated in the biotech industry. The City and Bayer entered into a development agreement which included creation of the nonprofit Berkeley Biotechnology Education, Inc. (BBEI), which has worked to provide students from Berkeley High with education and exposure to the biotech industry. The City has worked to obtain First Source Employment agreements with Bayer and other biotech firms in Berkeley, thus providing access for Berkeley residents to new hires in the industry. Also, the City has worked to link Vista and Laney Colleges’ biotech training programs with local biotech companies.

On the basic research side, the Molecular Sciences Institute (MSI) recently located in Downtown Berkeley. MSI is a nonprofit, academic, research organization which does basic genetic research for public benefit and also works to educate the public about biological technology. MSI works to determine how genes work and to devise ways to use genomic information (genetic sequencing) to predict the behavior of biological systems. In its work MSI uses an interdisciplinary approach with heavy reliance on computer analysis to predict genetic functioning. Although MSI’s work is aimed at providing a better understanding of the human genetic functioning, the results of its work may also contribute to the eventual development of biotech products.

The biotech industry is responsible for developing an array of pharmaceutical products which have revolutionized the diagnosis and treatment of many illnesses. With its key strategic location in the East Bay, Berkeley can expect continued growth in this important industry.

Sources for this article include the San Francisco Business times and Alameda County’s Economic Development Alliance for Business (EDAB).

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