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The Mission Bay Campus

Changing the Landscape

Along the shores of San Francisco Bay, just south of AT&T Park, a long-underused swath of land began to realize a potential greater than anything the city could have imagined when, in 2003, UCSF opened Genentech Hall, the first building on its Mission Bay campus.

Over the past decade, UCSF Mission Bay has bloomed into a vibrant and vital campus and biotechnology hub, where academia and industry come together for cutting-edge, lifesaving research. It is also the place where the next generation of basic scientists, clinical researchers, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and dentists learn with the most modern tools available.

UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay opened in February 2015. Photo by Cindy Chew

Now, this major campus for UCSF’s research and education programs has become home to San Francisco’s first new hospital in 30 years. UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay opened in February 2015, designed specifically to set new standards in patient care, and to support groundbreaking partnerships between basic science and clinical researchers that will speed the delivery of new therapies to benefit patients.

Today, UCSF Mission Bay is a hub for thousands of UCSF faculty, staff, students, patients and other visitors. But it took visionaries and the help of the community to turn this onetime marsh-turned-neglected area into a national model for health sciences research, patient care and creation of new jobs.

The transformation of UCSF Mission Bay into a thriving biotechnology center has been an economic boon for San Francisco, according to an economic impact report released in 2010. The development of the UCSF Mission Bay campus has been a significant catalyst to the San Francisco Bay Area biotechnology industry.

In fact, UCSF’s presence at Mission Bay has enabled San Francisco to attract bioscience back within city limits, growing from one company when UCSF's Genentech Hall opened in 2003, to more than 100 in 2013. The campus is immediately surrounded by a growing and collaborative ecosystem of more than 50 bioscience startups, nine established pharmaceutical and biotech companies, 10 venture capital firms, and scientific leaders such as the J. David Gladstone Institutes, the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) and the Veterans Affairs research center, all of which are affiliated with UCSF.

Making of Mission Bay 

Watch this video about Mission Bay's impact on the city of San Francisco, produced for its 10-year anniversary in 2013. Learn more about this "Decade of Discovery."

UCSF Mission Bay began as a fortuitous convergence of several forces — from UCSF’s need to expand from its cramped campuses at Parnassus Heights and Mount Zion, to then-Mayor Willie Brown’s desire to develop the biotech industry that could provide jobs in San Francisco for generations to come, to Catellus Development Corp.’s willingness to work with multiple parties to create something special on the 303-acre canvas that is now known as the Mission Bay neighborhood.

The initial land parcel for the UCSF Mission Bay campus included 29.2 acres donated by Catellus and 13.2 acres donated by the city of San Francisco in a landmark deal struck by then Mayor Brown, Nelson Rising, former chief executive officer of Catellus, and Bruce Spaulding, former vice chancellor for University Advancement and Planning.

UCSF later acquired an adjacent 14.5-acre site, which is the location of the new UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay. The medical center is a 289-bed, integrated complex with specialty hospitals for children, women and cancer patients.

With the medical center at Mission Bay, UCSF aims to transform academic medicine in part by translating basic science into clinical practice more rapidly through increased collaboration among scientists and clinicians, accelerating development of new diagnostic and treatment approaches for children, women and cancer patients, and training the next generation of health care practitioners using new tools and technology in facilities that foster teaching and learning.

Convergence of Science and Art

The Mission Bay campus, built according to a master plan, includes buildings designed by internationally renowned architects, including American Institute of Architects Gold Medal winners (the late) Ricardo Legorreta — who with his son, Victor, designed the vibrantly colored William J. Rutter Center — and César Pelli, who designed Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Hall, and award-winning architect Rafael Viñoly, who designed the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building.

The art collection at UCSF Mission Bay is named in honor of J. Michael Bishop, MD, Nobel laureate (1989) and former UCSF chancellor (1998-2009). Bishop established a public art program to coincide with the ongoing construction of the new campus “to create an environment that will be a credit and benefit to the entire community, a stimulating and pleasant place to work and visit, and a permanent legacy to the city.”

Artwork in the collection named after Bishop includes a sculpture by San Francisco native Richard Serra; more than 100 pieces of contemporary furniture by Seattle-based artist Roy McMakin and team, which are placed in the 3.2-acre campus green named Koret Quad; a five-pendant chandelier at Genentech Hall by California artist Jim Isermann; and a sculpture of four large figures, carved out of a single tree, by German artist Stephan Balkenhol, in the Rutter Center, the social center of the campus.

In less than a decade, a number of remarkable facilities and programs have come together at UCSF Mission Bay, including:

  • QB3, the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences: A consortium of UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and UCSF, QB3 is housed in Byers Hall, where the biotechnology industry comes together with academic research, spawning both new PhDs and new biotech startups.
  • Genentech Hall: UCSF’s first facility at Mission Bay, this five-story building houses programs in structural and chemical biology as well as molecular, cellular and developmental biology. It also houses the Molecular Design Institute, Nikon Imaging Center and the Center for Advanced Technology.
  • Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Hall: The building is home to programs in human genetics, developmental biology, developmental neuroscience and the Center for Brain Development.
  • Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building: Scientists investigating cancer’s basic biological mechanisms, including brain tumors, as well as researchers in urologic oncology, pediatric oncology, cancer population sciences and computational biology, are based in the building.
  • Orthopaedic Institute: The institute is a major center of outpatient treatment, research and training for musculoskeletal conditions, injuries and sports medicine. It is the first UCSF clinical service at Mission Bay.
  • Smith Cardiovascular Research Building: The building is home to research scientists and clinicians who focus on achieving new understanding and treatment for heart and vascular diseases. It is headquarters for the legendary UCSF Cardiovascular Research Institute and houses the UCSF Center for Prevention of Heart and Vascular Disease, a world-renowned, research-driven prevention program serving outpatients.
  • William J. Rutter Center: This four-story recreation and conference center serves both UCSF and the community, and includes a fitness complex, indoor and rooftop pools, a conference facility, activity center, pub and student services.
  • Sandler Neurosciences Center: The five-story, 237,000 square foot building brings under one roof several of the world’s leading clinical and basic research programs focusing on neurological disorders, providing an environment that encourages a cross-pollination of ideas and collaboration. It houses the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Department of Neurology, W.M. Keck Foundation Center for Integrative Neuroscience, and the Memory and Aging Center.
  • Mission Hall: Also known as the Global Health & Clinical Sciences Building, it officially opened in October 2014, housing some 1,500 professionals, pulling together all the faculty, staff and students working on global health, as well as the Office of the Chancellor.

The Mission Bay campus also includes housing for UCSF students, postdoctoral scholars, visiting faculty and their families, and a child care center.


Innovation and discovery are the watchwords at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus, where industry and academia integrate in developing the therapies that promote the University’s mission of advancing health worldwide™.

In just a few years, many of UCSF’s most brilliant researchers set up shop in sparkling, new labs at UCSF Mission Bay, with state-of-the-art equipment making possible all sorts of new discoveries.

UCSF already boasts more than 1 million square feet of research space at Mission Bay, and many of its labs are establishing new models for how to work both with industry and with clinicians to discover new drugs, devices and cures. In a world where the pace of discovery seems to quicken by the day, the University’s Mission Bay facilities are providing the space, the technology and the collaborative environment to take advancement to warp speed.

The California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, also known as QB3, a consortium of UCSF, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz, based on the campus, emphasizes quantitative approaches to the biosciences as a means to develop the tools to predict biological processes. Through this approach, using sophisticated equipment, scientists work to predict exactly how a protein’s function will change if they alter its composition, how an organism will behave if a gene is modified and how patients will respond to a new therapy.

In other fields of endeavor, engineers build models to determine whether a circuit will work or how well an airplane will fly. At QB3, scientists emulate those models, hoping that by understanding the design principles of biology, they will be able to develop cells and microorganisms that provide unique resources such as drugs or biofuels.

QB3 scientists follow eight major research themes, from chemical biology to synthetic biology, and from harvesting the information in genomes to developing biomaterials and stem cells.

At the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building, research teams delve into three primary areas: laboratory research into the causes and events related to cancer’s progression; clinical research to translate new knowledge into viable treatments; and population research that can lead to prevention, early detection and quality-of-life improvement for those living with cancer.

The building is home to investigators from the Brain Tumor Research Center as well as those specializing in population sciences, pediatric oncology, urologic oncology and computational biology.

Bringing many of the researchers together — along with the innovative care at UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay — creates myriad opportunities for new discoveries.

Putting basic scientists and clinicians together should ultimately lead to treatments and cures. “We can push the translational research envelope further than anywhere in the United States, bringing discovery faster to the patient,” says Peter Carroll, MD, MPH, associate dean of the UCSF School of Medicine and professor and chair of the Department of Urology. “We think it’s ideal.”

Academic-Industry Partnerships

The development of UCSF’s Mission Bay campus gave the University a rare opportunity to build space for the sort of partnerships that help drive top-notch research, innovation, education and patient care. At Mission Bay, UCSF boasts partnerships both with industry and with other academic institutions, all in the service of the University’s broader mission of advancing health worldwide™.

Industry was certainly ready to partner with UCSF. The University has a long history of working with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, dating to the birth of the biotech industry when UCSF research spawned Genentech in the 1970s.

Many innovative partnerships are already formed, thanks to the early successes of facilities such as the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and QB3, the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, as well as the recent arrival of pharmaceutical industry heavyweights such as Bayer, Celgene and Merck to the Mission Bay neighborhood.

But the partnerships are not merely between academia and industry. Sometimes the partners are research and academic organizations.

The J. David Gladstone Institutes is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research foundation affiliated with UCSF and located adjacent to UCSF Mission Bay. Primary research efforts at the Gladstone Institutes focus on three of the most important clinical problems of modern times: cardiovascular disease, AIDS and neurodegenerative disorders.

Gladstone researchers also hold faculty appointments at UCSF. In just one example of the collaboration, neurologists at UCSF are teaming with Gladstone researchers, faculty from UC Davis and members of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America Northern California Chapter to conduct the largest complete human genome disease association study to date, seeking to identify genes and novel drug targets related to the onset and progression of Huntington’s disease.

QB3 brings academics from various environments together to solve problems. Its Knowledge Brokers program connects QB3 researchers who have complementary interests. For example, it brought bioinformaticists from UC Santa Cruz together with cancer surgeons and oncologists from UCSF to conduct research that will improve treatment for patients with breast cancer. Its scientists also connect through shared facilities such as the Small Molecule Discovery Center and through multicampus research programs such as the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center.

“When scientists collaborate, they can extract greater value from their individual research programs at little additional cost,” says Regis B. Kelly, PhD, director of QB3 and former executive vice chancellor of UCSF.

The establishment of QB3, a consortium of UCSF, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz, based at Mission Bay, has attracted the attention of industry. “There’s always at least one major company coming through here,” Kelly says, ticking off the names GE Healthcare, Pfizer, Novartis and others. “There’s a huge crisis in big pharma right now, and they need to look at the early sources of innovation. That’s why everyone comes to us.”

Examples of the dividends coming from such partnerships include:

  • A new 2010 partnership between UCSF and Pfizer, Inc. is designed to substantially reduce the time required to translate promising biomedical research into new medications and therapies for patients.  The agreement represents $85 million in research support and milestone payments for UCSF over the next five years if the collaboration leads to development of significant new therapies for diseases with high unmet medical need.  
  • Genentech, a wholly owned member of the pharmaceutical giant Roche Group, has more than 15 research collaborations with UCSF across several therapeutic areas. In one project, Genentech supports, with both funding and expertise, several researchers in UCSF’s Small Molecule Discovery Center, which is part of the UCSF School of Pharmacy and is affiliated with QB3.  The company will collaborate with UCSF to identify small molecules, with the ultimate goal of developing a drug candidate that could net UCSF $13 million plus royalties, on top of the money Genentech is already investing.
  • The formation of the Surbeck Laboratory for Advanced Imaging at Byers Hall on the Mission Bay campus in 2005 enhanced the long term collaboration between UCSF and GE Healthcare with regard to the development of novel magnetic resonance imaging technologies.  In November 2010, this relationship led to the first use in humans of a new technology that monitors changes in hyperpolarized pyruvate, a naturally occurring sugar that cells produce during metabolism, in order to rapidly assess the aggressiveness of a tumor by imaging its metabolism. The technique has the potential for dramatically changing treatment for many types of tumors by providing immediate feedback to clinicians on whether a therapy is working. 
  • Ten companies led by Nikon Instruments and Technical Instruments have donated approximately $2.3 million in high-end, cutting-edge microscopes and other devices to the UCSF Nikon Imaging Center at QB3, a joint QB3-UCSF School of Medicine facility for light microscopy.
  • Abbott Diagnostics, through a multiyear, collaborative agreement with UCSF, helped establish the UCSF Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center — based on the ViroChip work done by UCSF Professor Joseph DeRisi, PhD, and colleagues — which focuses on discovery of novel viruses associated with acute and chronic human illnesses. Researchers anticipate further partnerships that will help unlock the viral causes of unexplained acute illnesses such as respiratory infections, gastroenteritis and encephalitis, as well as chronic illnesses such as cancer.