What does it take for a region to become truly revolutionary? Dr. Richard Klausner, co-founder and director of biotechnology company Juno Therapeutics, says it is all about time, place, and capitalizing on unique opportunities when they arise.
Speaking today at the 2016 Governor’s Life Sciences Summit in Bellevue, Wash., Klausner said the Seattle region is facing such an opportunity now in the area of cell-based therapies, treatments that use a patient’s cells to fight disease. Klausner said the emergence of cell-based therapies could be as revolutionary as the emergence of pharmaceuticals a hundred years ago. And Klausner isn’t the only one who has noticed.
“I recently spent some time with Mayor [Bill] de Blasio, who called me to find out what would it take to move Juno to New York City,” Klausner said. He said de Blasio was concerned that New York missed out on the genesis of cell therapies, and is interested in establishing an industry presence in the city.
Klausner said Juno isn’t going anywhere, at least for the moment, and Seattle’s rich history in cell therapy research and innovation is the main reason. Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center — from which Juno was initially spun out — has been a leader in cell therapy for decades, and the city has a vibrant array of companies working in the area.
Many companies and researchers involved in cell therapies in Seattle are focusing on cancer immunotherapy, Juno’s area of expertise, which uses immune cells to fight cancer.
“In the state of Washington, in Seattle, there is this really interesting, unique tradition,” Klausner said during his talk at the event. “I think this really does represent a new, emerging, and really extraordinary new era for life sciences.”
All the warm fuzzy feelings aside, though, he does think the region needs to make sweeping changes to prevent this opportunity from slipping by. On of the biggest issues facing Washington state life sciences is finding a talented workforce.
“Recruiting people to Seattle is harder than it ought to be” because the city’s life sciences ecosystem doesn’t have the reputation of other hubs around the country, Klausner told GeekWire before his talk at the event.
And although Seattle’s industry isn’t at the level of Boston or San Francisco, the robust industry that does exist doesn’t have the reputation it deserves, he said — another instance of the typical Seattle PR problem.
If Washington wants life sciences to flourish, building a reputation for a diverse and stable ecosystem is a key step.
“While there’s a lot of bits and pieces,” Klausner said, “I actually think the most important thing a state can do is prioritize this, and create a sense that there’s resources, there’s interest.”
“And then you have to not make mistakes, like letting the Amgen facility go,” Klaus said, referring to the California-based biotech company that closed its sizeable Seattle campus in 2014. “I mean, that was a really big mistake.”
Earlier in the day, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also spoke about measures to foster the state’s life sciences industry. He threw his support behind measures like tax credits for companies doing research and working with developers to build more wet lab space, something which Juno CEO Hans Bishop has also advocated.