The Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Photo courtesy of the center
The Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Photo courtesy of the center

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to match a $3 million private commitment to build a bioscience incubator on the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center campus in Torrance.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who allocated the money out of a capital improvement fund set up for his district, said he expected construction to begin by the end of this year.

“It is about making Los Angeles the locus of what’s new, what’s next,” Ridley-Thomas said.

The 18,000-square-foot incubator will be part of a larger 78,000-square- foot research facility in the medical campus.

LA BioMed, a nonprofit research institute founded in 1952, has identified $57 million to pay for the research center, plus $3 million in private funding for the incubator, Ridley-Thomas said.

“With an incubator, we can promote the fledgling companies to the point where they have proof of principal and a good management team and investment capital,” LA Biomed President and CEO David Meyer said.

The county approved a land lease for the site in 2014. The research center will include the Institutes for Translational Genomics and Infectious Diseases.

In addition to potentially discovering “life-saving technology,” biomedical research “can provide well-paying jobs at all skill levels,” Ridley-Thomas said.

Industry watchers agreed.

Tamara Perry of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation called the plan “a big step forward,” saying a”life sciences institute will become a magnet” for entrepreneurs, ideas and public and private funding.

Holly Smithson of the California Life Sciences Association called LA BioMed “one of the country’s leading biomedical” players.

The group has pioneered technology including heart scans, cholesterol testing to prevent blindness in newborns, help for premature babies with fragile lungs and testing for thyroid deficiencies in infants.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl lauded the plan but then wondered aloud whether the county should be better compensated for offering land, funding and other support to such endeavors.

“Never does the county benefit in any way from discoveries that are made,” Kuehl said, noting that colleges and universities are starting to demand some ownership of ideas generated on their campuses with their resources.

When discoveries lead to patents and profit, the county should get at least a refund of its investment, Kuehl suggested, if not a share of the profits.

Supervisor Hilda Solis said she wanted future projects to expand the scope of research to embrace robotics, telemedicine and other scientific sectors.

Citing a study by the Battelle Memorial Institute finding that the Los Angeles region could support three to five bioscience hubs, Ridley-Thomas said he was looking at opportunities to add facilities at Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center in Willowbrook. The county is also weighing the possibility of a 35-acre biotech park next to County-USC Medical Center.

Solis raised concerns about integrating the surrounding communities into the success of the center, saying she didn’t want to see research centers operate in a bubble.

–City News Service 

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