Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD

UCSF’s Elizabeth Blackburn received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in December 2009 for her co-discovery of a protein that influences the life and death of dividing cells. The protein gives cancer cells their immortality, creating a potential target for future treatments. Photo by Elisabeth Fall.

Driving Innovation and Discovery to Advance Health

UCSF’s advancing health worldwide™ mission is both noble and ambitious. Dedication to this cause helps drive one of the most successful life sciences programs of research and innovation in the world.

In fact, UCSF is one of the single most prominent research and development institutions in the San Francisco Bay Area and draws more money from the National Institutes of Health than any public institution: $463 million in fiscal year 2009, according to a new economic impact report.

Innovations and Inventions

  • 1,757: Number of UCSF patents issued from 1977 to 2009
  • 602: Number of UCSF patents issued from 2000 to 2009, more than any other UC campus
  • $64 million: Average annual UCSF income from patent royalties and fees from 2008 to 2009
  • 90: Estimated number of life sciences start-up companies spawned at or spun off from UCSF labs, including 30 start-ups at Mission Bay

UCSF’s work in the emerging field of stem cell research has drawn millions of dollars in grants, and millions more in philanthropy. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, approved by state voters in 2004 and now headquartered near the Mission Bay campus, has so far committed more than $100 million to UCSF’s program, including $34.9 million to support UCSF’s Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research, now under construction and nearing completion at the Parnassus Heights campus.

Jeffrey Bluestone, executive vice chancellor and provost

Jeffrey Bluestone, executive vice chancellor and provost

“When important things are being done in science, UCSF is at the center of it and drives the economy around it,” says Jeffrey Bluestone, PhD, UCSF executive vice chancellor and provost. “San Francisco has become and will remain one of the biotechnology capitals of the world, and that derives significantly from the great research that’s been done here. We are the new economy here.”

Money, both directly from federal grants and indirectly from companies looking to base their operations near UCSF, flows into the region because of the University’s culture of innovation and collaboration. UCSF even gets credit for jointly launching the modern biotech industry, an event traced to the successful DNA splicing by UCSF’s Herbert Boyer, PhD, and Stanford’s Stanley Cohen, PhD, in 1973. Their work had profound effects in the fields of biochemistry and molecular biology, and led to the development of modern genetic engineering.

Three years later, Genentech was founded when Boyer teamed with venture capitalist Robert Swanson and showed the world a way to use laboratory discoveries to save millions of lives, employ hundreds of thousands and make millions of dollars around the world.

UCSF continues as a center of innovation, and its vast research enterprise is one of the largest and most productive in the country, with outcomes that have significantly improved human health. Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, UCSF’s most recent Nobel laureate in 2009, unmasked a fundamental cancer secret when she helped discover telomerase, an enzyme that plays a key role in normal cell function as well as in aging and most cancers. The finding provides insight into diseases and offers hope that their cures may be found.

Professor Joseph DeRisi, PhD, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and Don Ganem, MD, a professor of microbiology, immunology and medicine, invented the ViroChip, a method for detecting known and unknown viruses – a particularly useful tool when diseases like SARS pop up seemingly out of nowhere.

That’s just a small sample of the wide range of work happening at UCSF. The University boasted more than 600 patent portfolios in fiscal year 2007, a greater number than any other UC campus. UCSF also produced 200 invention disclosures – confidential documents written by a scientist for use to determine whether patent protection should be sought – and 1,422 invention portfolios, which package new products or ideas to garner royalties. Its patents brought in an average annual income of $64 million from 2008 to 2009, according to the economic impact report.

San Francisco region’s commercial real estate chart

San Francisco’s share of the region’s commercial real estate occupied by biotechnology companies has grown from 0.7 percent in 2003 to 6.1 percent in 2009, according to the economic impact report. This chart reveals UCSF as a biotech magnet since it opened the first research building, Genentech Hall, at Mission Bay in 2003.

UCSF is also home to the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), itself an innovative organization established by the state and run by UCSF, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz. At QB3’s Mission Bay headquarters, more than 170 researchers explore how biological systems work, use advanced computational tools, and discover groundbreaking applications for health, energy and the environment. QB3 also provides mechanisms for scientists to interact with their counterparts in industry, often to help speed the research and bring a new therapy or tool to market faster.

So far, about 90 life sciences start-up companies have been spawned at or spun off from UCSF labs. Among these, in what’s known as the QB3 Garage, are Refactored Materials and SeaChange Pharmaceuticals, two innovative firms started by recent UCSF PhDs. Dan Widmaier, PhD, co-founded Refactored Materials to see whether his work to synthetically replicate spider silk – a natural fiber stronger than anything made by humans, yet not requiring toxic chemicals in its manufacture – could be commercialized. Similarly, Michael Keiser, PhD, at SeaChange sees opportunities in his nascent firm’s novel approach to finding new uses for existing drugs.

“People are not afraid to try crazy, new ideas and projects – and by crazy, I mean ambitious,” Keiser says. “The community here supports not just scientific, but also entrepreneurial innovation.”