City, UCSF Celebrate 10 Years of Discovery, Development at Mission Bay

Region’s 'Bioscience Ecosystem' Recognized as a Model for the Nation

By Kristen Bole

Editor's note: This story was updated from an earlier version posted on Jan. 23.

UC San Francisco celebrated the 10th anniversary of its $3 billion bioscience research campus at Mission Bay, which has become a center of innovation that leaders are calling the Silicon Valley of Bioscience.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, celebrated the milestone on Jan. 23 with a news conference and ceremonial cake-cutting featuring leaders from city and state government, science and industry, who helped make the robust bioscience landscape a reality.

They were joined by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom; former Gov. Gray Davis, and Nobel laureate J. Michael Bishop, MD, who led the development of Mission Bay as UCSF chancellor from 1998 to 2009. All of them spoke about the significance of Mission Bay in Genentech Hall, the first building to open in 2003. Dozens of faculty, staff, students and others watched the celebration in person in the Genentech Hall Atrium or online. 

Former Mayor Willie Brown, who was unable to attend the Jan. 23 celebration, and others were instrumental in the late 1990s in negotiating a deal that resulted in the donation of 43 acres of land – valued at more than $170 million – for a new campus for UCSF, which was overcrowded and searching for space outside the city to expand.

They envisioned UCSF Mission Bay as a catalyst for a new bioscience zone that would spur economic growth in what was then an area of abandoned railroad yards and warehouses. A decade after UCSF’s first research building opened, Mission Bay has far surpassed that vision. Around the UCSF campus is a growing cadre of life science companies, startups and venture capital firms that are translating the University’s research into companies and products to improve health worldwide.

“This is an amazing story of a diverse group of people, each faced with great challenges, coming together to create a world-recognized center of innovation,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “Together, this community is leading a revolution in bioscience that will transform the future of health worldwide.”

Today, Mission Bay is home to three Nobel laureates and nearly 4,000 UCSF researchers, clinicians and staff on or near the campus, including dozens of world-renowned scientists studying AIDS, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and others. Across the street, more than 900 construction workers are building the state-of-the-art UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, which will open in February 2015 to offer pioneering care for children, women and cancer patients.

“Designed from the ground floor as a center for collaboration and discovery, Mission Bay is at the very heart of what makes San Francisco the Innovation Capital of the World,” Mayor Lee said. “As we celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Mission Bay, we are celebrating innovation, job creation and opportunity. The best is yet to come.”

A Robust Biotechnology Hub

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 now. 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.

UCSF Mission Bay has freed up significant space for UCSF’s other research and clinical programs on its campuses at Parnassus Heights and Mount Zion, which had been hamstrung by the inability to grow in the center of urban residential areas.

Over the last decade, UCSF has expanded from 15,000 employees to 22,500, making it the city’s second-largest employer. It also has grown into a $3.6 billion enterprise, of which $1.065 billion is focused on fundamental bioscience research.

That makes UCSF the nation’s largest university singularly focused on health sciences, and the second-largest recipient of federal bioscience funding through the National Institutes of Health.

Culture of Collaboration

UCSF researchers – both laboratory and clinical – are among the most prolific nationwide in publishing scientific discoveries, and are breaking new ground in understanding disease and finding new ways to harness science to save lives.

Desmond-Hellmann said the campus was specifically designed to foster collaborations among these scientists, as well as with their clinical colleagues, to generate innovative bioscience discoveries and translate them into advances in health.

As a state university with a strong public mission, UCSF is increasingly focused on turning those discoveries into better therapies and cures for patients worldwide. Doing so requires close collaborations with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, which develop those discoveries into new therapies for patients, as well as concerted efforts to support entrepreneurs on campus.

Mission Bay also is home to a growing number of entrepreneurs who have spun companies out of their research at the University of California (UC) or come to Mission Bay to be part of the innovation for which UCSF is increasingly known.

Most of those startups have been launched through QB3, a state institute created by Gov. Davis to translate UC research into companies and products for public and economic benefit. Since QB3 launched its first “Garage” in 2006 at Mission Bay, it has launched five bioscience incubators and 60 companies, of which 37 are at Mission Bay. Together, those startups have hired 300 people and raised $230 million in follow-on funding during the nation’s worst recession since the 1930s.

Photos by Susan Merrell