Thirty years ago, Biocom was established to accelerate the success of California’s life science community. Today, the medical device and life science trade organization has expanded across the United States and throughout the world; pushing for advocacy, industry collaboration and global networking.

What truly sets this multifaceted organization apart from other trade organizations is their unique membership and offices across the state, in Washington, D.C., and in Tokyo. They not only offer membership to biotech, medical device and pharmaceutical companies, but also to service providers. This innovation allows for immediate networking opportunities, where pharma, biotech, research, and academic institutions can collaborate on a global level.

Leading Biocom is CEO and President, Joe Panetta. Joe focuses on Biocom’s strategic direction, guiding policy priorities, and advocating for the biopharmaceutical industry at the local, state, national and international level.

Recently, Joe sat down with Rich Soll and the WuXi AppTec Content Team to discuss Biocom, their role in the fight against COVID-19 and Joe’s insights into future global preparations.

WuXi AppTec: Please take a minute to introduce Biocom to our readers.

Joe Panetta: Biocom is the life science trade association for California, headquartered in San Diego, representing 1,300 member companies and another 50 member companies in Japan. Biocom’s mission is to accelerate the success of California’s life science community across the state, across the United States and across the world.

We have three main functions: first is to advocate at the local level, in the state capital and in Washington D.C., to work with policymakers in other parts of the world, and to help member companies raise the capital needed to move their products forward.

Second, to train the current and future life science workforce, working with universities and other educational institutions to provide the opportunity for people to obtain degrees and certificates, and to share and gain knowledge through conferences, committees and networking events.

Third, to provide a whole slew of goods and services, on the purchasing side, at discounts to our members who need to conduct lab research and operate their companies’ payroll, and healthcare benefits.

WuXi AppTec: Can you elaborate on your organization’s efforts to combat COVD-19?

Joe Panetta: Yes, and I’d like to recognize our 1,300 members who are working non-stop to get the world out of this pandemic.

Our member companies are involved in developing diagnostics, therapies, vaccines, protective equipment and other types of products that deal directly with the COVID-19 virus. They also may be involved in other activities, which support initiatives to ensure we have an ongoing healthy population.

Our companies need to continue to do the research and development, commercializing, and manufacturing, so success in addressing the virus and in developing products to support susceptible patients can be found quickly. Autoimmune diseases, heart disease, cancer, diabetes – all of these conditions contribute to the declining health of our population, making us more susceptible to the COVID-19 virus.

Wuxi AppTec: How does Biocom directly support those companies and what is unique about Biocom?

Joe Panetta: We support our stakeholders in multiple ways so I will illustrate four of those: strategic communication, company–industry relationships, advocacy at state and national levels, and cross company purchasing power. The first is we help our companies connect with each other. Our web-based coronavirus resource center, accessible on www.biocom.org , allows our membership to match supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE) with hospitals or other frontline healthcare workers.

Second, we are providing the opportunity for companies to promote their technologies – so people know what’s available; to donate supplies they might have on hand; and to share their knowledge or experiences. For example, Illumina shared with us their well-thought out coronavirus emergency plans, which pertained to the safety of their employees and to ensuring their facility qualified as a virus free work environment.

Additionally, we have companies that advise our small companies on how to access grant funding and small business administration funding. This comes out of the CARES act which Congress recently passed.

So we are very much engaged in ensuring our members are connected, especially during perilous times like we’ve seen during COVID-19.

Third, we’re also very involved in working with state and local governments to ensure we are having a dialogue that relates to the essential needs of our companies. We must allow employees who need to be in the office or in the lab into the buildings to do their work. Some of it is research that can’t be stopped and restarted again. ­Empty labs today mean fewer therapies tomorrow.

Therefore, we are advocating for a smart way to allow our companies to let people come to work on the things they need to do.

Fourth, we have a purchasing program. Our most prominent member is Thermo Fisher Scientific. Their subsidiary, Fisher Scientific is providing many of the technologies being utilized to develop the coronavirus tests as well a lot of laboratory protective equipment (PPE). The scope and depth of this relationship gives us enormous buying power, which benefits our members.                                                                                                            

WuXi AppTec: Is the San Diego life science community skewed towards segments – small molecules therapeutics, biologics, and diagnostics vaccines?

Joe Panetta: I think one of the advantages we have in San Diego is that we have a broad distribution of every type of company, and a broad distribution of therapeutic areas. We have a number of companies with expertise in anti-infectives and antivirals. In fact, one of the first antiviral drugs was developed here by Agouron Pharmaceuticals to treat HIV and AIDS.

There is a high level of innovative start-ups in San Diego, which is why we attract large biotech and pharma companies, many of which arrived via acquisition of the local innovative companies.

Finally, we are known as the genomics capitals of the world, with Illumina’s headquarters here. Their presence attracts other companies and researchers interested in working on therapies derived from genetic sequencing.

WuXi AppTec: How important is collaboration in San Diego?

Joe Panetta: At our heart really, we’ve been an organization that came together to allow people to collaborate in a network. When we talk about the San Diego community, the first word that comes to mind, and I hear it from everybody here, is collaboration. It’s a community of collaboration.

Biocom has about 15 different committees that have actively worked together for many, many years to share best practices, connect with investors, and interact with government officials. They’re actually continuing to work together vigilantly throughout this pandemic. They’re holding video teleconferences, sharing advice, and then allowing us to access the advice and post it on our website.

Our coronavirus website is another example of how we encourage collaboration by providing this exchange, this opportunity for people to share information and to access the technologies they have. We held a virtual breakfast meeting about two weeks ago, right after everyone went under the stay-at-home order; the event was successful.

Additionally, we are now providing that information through webinars we’re doing now and into the future on different aspects of the pandemic and other topics that would be educational to our members.

WuXi AppTec: The COVID-19 outbreak—what did we learn from this?

Joe Panetta: I think the most important thing we’re learning from this is that we have to be vigilant all the time when it comes to the potential threat of any kind of viral or bacterial disease. The things we’re doing now are things we should have been doing before, like washing our hands, covering our mouths, getting our children vaccinated, eating healthy, and getting the flu shot, since most likely there will be a vaccine for coronavirus.

Another lesson learned is the importance of collaboration that goes beyond partnership, technology acquisition and licensing. It is realizing the role that larger companies have in ensuring a healthy business community.

WuXi AppTec: Can we better prepare for a future epidemic?

Joe Panetta: We must make sure we learn from this experience from many angles. We need to have a coordinated effort at the local, state, and federal levels with a coronavirus czar to orchestrate and coordinate these efforts to improve preparedness, efficiency, effectiveness, and impact. We were not well prepared for this pandemic—no vaccine or therapeutic— so we must do better preparation in advance of the storm. We should turn these challenges of today into collaborative opportunities for solutions.