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California's Next Great Industry?

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Dr. Hans Keristead, a biologist at the University of California, Irvine, was the subject of a glowing profile on CBS's 60 Minutes last night.

Avid Inc. readers (are their any other kind?) will recall that Kierstead's work was the subject of an article we ran a year ago on efforts by many Californians to establish an international center for stem-cell research in the Golden State. Writing for Inc., Patrick J. Sauer noted that Kierstead considered himself an entrepreneur, and had established a series of companies to commercialize the fruits of his lab research. Check out this section of the article:

"...Keirstead believes that by becoming an international center of stem cell research, California will attract top scientific talent. These scientists will be able to use Prop 71 grants to fund their R&D. And as their work progresses, they can raise capital from the state's indigenous VC community to help commercialize the therapies they invent. "It's so typically Californian to just go around the federal government and do it 10 times bigger," he says.

"Keirstead, who likes to call himself a "scientific entrepreneur," is unusual in that he takes an active role in shepherding his research from lab to market. In addition to his choice academic post, the 37-year-old biologist -- who moved from his native Canada to California in 2000 -- has been CEO of two private companies built upon his patents. He's interested in business, he says, because the financial demands of running a company tend to expedite the research process.

"Keirstead now plans to build a series of private "bridge" companies to develop intellectual property, which he will ultimately sell to big pharmaceutical companies. He did just that as CEO of Ability Biomedical, which he co-founded with Thomas Lane, who developed treatments to help regenerate nervous system functionality. UC-Irvine owns the patents to the therapies, so Keirstead negotiated an exclusive license with the school, then raised $1.5 million from VCs to further develop the technology. When the therapy was almost ready for clinical trials, Keirstead partnered with biotech heavyweight Medarex to take it from there. Medarex eventually bought Ability (and the licenses) for nearly $9 million; the human trials are scheduled to begin soon."

Here's the link to the rest of the article. Kierstead reminds me of another recent Inc. subject--a fellow Californian who brings entrepreneurial thinking and an iconoclastic attitude to a field known for its set-in-stone hierarchy. I'm talking about the aviator Burt Rutan, who hopes to pioneer affordable space travel. David H. Freedman profiled Rutan last January; here's the link. If you had to bet, which industry do you think is most likely poised to become an economic engine for the state that brought us the gold rush, movies, microprocessors, and dot-coms?

Last updated: Feb 27, 2006




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