Professor Steven Casper: How to Build a Biotechnology Cluster
Steven Casper, director of KGI's Master of Bioscience program, is a leading expert in how and why biotechnology companies tend to cluster in certain regions, but his personal interests extend beyond the commercialization of science to include classical music, Disneyland and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Casper's research uses cross-national comparisons to explore how public policy influences economic development in high-tech industries. He has investigated why Japan and Germany, where the governments are spending billions to create biotechnology industries, have not been successful. And, he has compared their experiences with the United States and the United Kingdom, both of which have developed successful biotechnology clusters.
More recently, he has zeroed in on Southern California comparing San Diego, one of three regions in the United States with a vibrant biotechnology cluster, and Los Angeles, where none has developed. The other two large clusters are in San Francisco and Boston.
Cities, states and entire countries are anxious to develop biotechnology, which is the commercializing of new discoveries in genetic and molecular biology as they relate to drugs, energy and food.
"Governments have recognized the power of biotechnology to create new industries, and are keen to ensure that their citizens benefit from the new technologies," said Casper.
The federal government spends billions of dollars funding basic research through the National Science Foundation and the US Department Health and Human Services, Casper says. Under the Bayh-Dole Act, ownership of federally funded research was transferred from government to universities.
"Universities were given ownership of their research and were obliged to commercialize it," he says.
Regions like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City have been unsuccessful in developing biotech clusters despite the presence of strong research universities and the availability of venture capital.
Casper has found that what's missing in those cities is a rich social network that connects the scientists, entrepreneurs, managers and venture capitalists. Successful regional clusters, such as San Diego or San Francisco, have developed such networks. Strong social networks allow information to flow quickly within and among companies whether it's news of a breakthrough drug or more often a clinical trial failure.
"The innovative capacity of companies embedded in regional networks is higher," Casper said.
Biotechnology is a high-risk field to work in, but social networks can reduce the risk because the vast majority of people will find other jobs through the network. And, they create easy access to individuals working across dozens of companies, which improves efficiency.
Casper, who earned his PhD in government from Cornell University, teaches courses at KGI in international business and global health, market assessment, and he participates in KGI's successful entrepreneurship curriculum.
Since coming to KGI in 2003, Casper has earned many distinctions. In October 2008, he was named the Henry E. Riggs Professor of Management. The professorship, founded by Stanford N. Phelps, a longtime member of the KGI Board of Trustees, was the first endowment supporting the business curriculum at KGI.
Casper has completed an 18-month study funded with an $84,000 grant from the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation to examine the potential for Los Angeles to become a leading center for biotechnology. The grant was the first for KGI from that foundation.
He became the first KGI faculty member to be awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in May 2008. Casper used the scholarship to study how public policy can impact the emergence and sustainability of biotechnology clusters in Canada.
He spent four months conducting research at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, where the Canadian government has decided to provide support and funding to launch a biotechnology cluster.
"Canada has made impressive strides in biotechnology and is attempting to create a new cluster on Prince Edward Island," said Casper, who conducted a detailed study of processes of industrial upgrading in Charlottetown.
He hopes the results of his study will lead to better understanding of how governments can develop policies to support and sustain biotechnology.
Outside of KGI, he enjoys traveling to Europe with his wife, a political scientist from Germany, and their two daughters, ages 2 and 5. He has long been a classical music aficionado and subscriber to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He is also big Lakers fan. Casper has organized several trips for the faculty and staff to Staples Center to watch Lakers games.
Raised in Orange County, Casper is a frequent visitor to Disneyland and has developed an interest in the theme park's history. He is an avid collector of Disneyana, especially vintage Disneyland attraction posters and animation cels from early Disney movies.
Casper came to KGI from the University of Cambridge, UK, where he was a lecturer in innovation and entrepreneurship at the Judge Institute of Management Studies researching how biotechnology industries emerge.
Before that, he was a senior research fellow at the Social Science Center Berlin and was selected as a fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies.
In 2007 Casper published a book drawing on his international research on the biotechnology industry, called Creating Silicon Valley in Europe: Public Policy Towards New Technolog Industries (Oxford University Press). He is currently writing a book on the history of the biotechnology industry in California stemming from his research into the experiences of San Diego and Los Angeles. The book will focus on the added value of social networking in the success of the industry in San Diego and San Francisco, and it will explore whether there is anything the government can do to foster the growth of biotechnology industries in Los Angeles.
- By Elaine Regus
Educating the future leaders of the bioscience industry, Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) offers an interdisciplinary graduate education through its Master of Bioscience (MBS) degree program and its PhD program in Applied Life Sciences. Using team-based learning and real-world projects, KGI's innovative curriculum seamlessly combines applied life sciences, bioengineering, bioethics and business management. KGI also has a robust research program concentrating on the translation of basic discoveries in the life sciences into applications that can benefit society. KGI is a member of The Claremont Colleges, located in Claremont, California.
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