Here’s why ranking San Diego’s life science companies is always a challenge: When it comes to peering into the crystal ball, one sees a pretty thick marine layer.
One start-up could come up with a novel cancer-fighting drug tomorrow and rocket to success. Meanwhile, another could see its hopeful wonder drug fail to pass muster. It can be hard to tell at any given moment which direction a firm — particularly a newer one — may go.
In San Diego County, there are as many as 1,000 life science companies, and new ones are being created all the time. Many are small, with just a handful of employees. Few blossom into outright powerhouses because San Diego biotechs are likely — if they show signs of success — to be scooped up by larger firms from outside the region.
Life sciences can be a tough, unforgiving industry, given the effort it takes to create new health care solutions and innovations. For instance, in 2015 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved only 45 new drugs.
To determine our top 25, we scoured through a long list of life science companies, looking for the ones with the greatest opportunity for growth. Some are already having a big effect on our economy, while some still are 99 percent hope. Here, we rank the top five. To see the full list, subscribe to Our City's print edition by clicking here.
1 of 6
2 of 6
So who are we to argue with the MIT Technology Review, which named Illumina the Smartest Company in 2014? Last year, it fell — all the way to third. The genome sequencing firm employs 1,400 and saw revenues exceed $1.6 billion.
Two of its inventions nabbed second and third place in The Scientist magazine’s top 10 innovations of 2014.
As Wired magazine put it in a recent article: “You could say that Illumina is to DNA sequencing what Google is to Internet search, but that would be underselling the San Diego-based biotech company. Illumina’s machines, the best and cheapest on the market, generate 90 percent of all DNA sequence data today. Illumina is, as they say, crushing it.”
3 of 6
In the past year, ResMed has been on something of a buying spree, snapping up three firms. The most recent acquisition made the biggest splash; ResMed plunked down $800 million for Brightree, an Atlanta-based software company.
ResMed makes devices to treat sleep and respiratory disorders. Globally, it employs 4,000, with revenue that exceeds $1.2 billion.
“This acquisition furthers ResMed’s position as the leading tech-driven medical device company and gives our customers new tools to help them increase operational efficiency and improve cash flow while delivering best-in-class patient care,” said Mick Farrell, CEO of ResMed.
4 of 6
Ionis has a whopping 40 drugs in the developmental pipeline — a number that wows many industry observers — but it got a lot of press last year because of its former name.
That would be Isis.
The firm initially didn’t want to capitulate and change its name, which comes from an Egyptian goddess known for casting magical spells, but it was becoming too much of a headache. Last year’s Paris attacks by the terrorist organization prompted the company to reconsider.
“My underlying concern was that the name was a distraction,” CEO and founder Stanley Crooke told Forbes, “to spend any time during a four-minute TV interview, for example, discussing our name, rather than focusing on how exciting things are at Isis.”
5 of 6
Could a new, dynamic treatment for diabetes that won’t require patients to inject themselves with insulin actually be in the cards?
Well, fingers-crossed. The San Diego-based biotech ViaCyte believes it has the answer, and the firm has been testing the novel method in patients, a significant step.
An encapsulation device filled with insulin-producing cells (pancreatic progenitor cells derived from human pluripotent stem cells, according to the company) is implanted under a patient’s skin. Those cells, once mature, secrete the needed insulin. People with Type 1 diabetes can’t create insulin. That’s why they have to inject it daily.
6 of 6
Otonomy is a biotech on the rise, no question. Remember that stat about the number of drugs the FDA approved last year? Otonomy created one of them.
Otonomy focuses on the ear. The drug that got approval, Otiprio, is used to treat ear infections children sometimes get when having tubes implanted. About a million such procedures are done annually.
“The approval of Otiprio, our first product, is a landmark moment in the history of Otonomy and provides important validation for our proprietary drug delivery technology that combines a thermosensitive gel with drug microparticles to enable single-dose treatment by a physician,” said David A. Weber, Ph.D., president and CEO of Otonomy.