Now, a report from the life sciences trade group Biocom offers a glimpse at the size of the region's biotech workforce and its potential for growth.
The group found that about 70,000 people in Los Angeles County work in the bioscience field, at an average wage of about $73,000 per year. More than 2,400 bioscience companies and institutions call the county home.
“The Los Angeles life science industry is in a growth phase,” said Dina Lozofsky, executive director of Biocom’s Los Angeles office. "We are under-recognized as a cluster, perhaps because our 2,400 industry establishments are spread out throughout the county instead of having a natural hub."
Carolyn Hull, a vice president at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, said the region has a rich talent pool – Southern California's universities produce thousands of bioscience graduates each year. But most of those graduates move to other cities where there is more venture capital to fund their upstarts.
"They tend to concentrate in San Diego or San Francisco. So one of the challenges we have in L.A. County is bringing venture capitalists to this area to understand our ecosystem and provide funding for the companies that are situated here," she said.
Southern California also has less industrial lab space than San Diego and the Bay Area, Hull said. Biotech entrepreneurs often struggle to find affordable rents.
Several efforts are underway to create more space, one of which is a 20,000 square foot biotech incubator on the campus of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, funded by a $3 million county grant. Construction will begin later this month, and the incubator is scheduled to open in 2018.
"The (bioscience) footprint here in Los Angeles is not what it could be, but the good news is it will be," said Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, who spearheaded the county effort.