Sirna Therapeutics announced last week that it has decided to relocate its corporate headquarters to San Francisco from Boulder, Colo., in a bid to place itself in the heart of one of the most prominent biotechnology clusters in the US.
“The headquarters move will place Sirna firmly among its peers in the world’s leading biotechnology community,” Howard Robin, president and CEO of Sirna, said in a statement.
According to a Sirna filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the company intends to maintain research, development, and other operations at its current Boulder location.
“Biotech was, in a manner of speaking, invented in San Francisco,” Todd Ewing, managing director for San Francisco’s Center for Economic Development, told RNAi News this week, referring to the co-development of recombinant DNA technology by University of California, San Francisco biochemist Herbert Boyer, who went on to found Genentech in 1976.
And while numerous biotechnology firms have since set up shop in the areas surrounding San Francisco, the city itself has not been a destination for companies working in the industry.
According to Ewing, San Francisco’s move to change this began as early as 20 years ago when an effort to establish a new campus for UCSF in the Mission Bay area was launched. Part of the plan for the 43-acre campus includes an “envelope for private biotech to grow up around [the institute] and be symbiotic with the campus,” Ewing said. “As that’s come on line in the last year and a half, there’s been a renewed vigor [on the part of the city] to attract biotech.”
This renewed vigor included the implementation of a 7-and-a-half year exemption for biotechnology research and development firms from San Francisco’s 1.5 percent payroll tax, Ewing said. This exemption was put into effect last August, and will be applicable to all biotech firms that move to the city by August 2014.
The San Francisco Mayor’s office has also relaxed certain parking restrictions to make the city more amenable to industry, Ewing said. “Biotech companies typically want anywhere from one-and-a-half to three [parking] spaces per 1,000 square feet for commuting,” he explained. “We got the parking extended from one space per 1000 square to two spaces.”
Additionally, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, a biotechnology real estate investment trust, recently acquired land and entitlements to develop 1.44 million square feet of life science research and development space at Mission Bay.
For its part, Sirna has opted to establish its new headquarters in the China Basin Landing complex, which is adjacent to UCSF’s Mission Bay campus. According to the SEC filing, the company has signed a 2-year lease, beginning April 1, for about 4,350 square feet of office space at 185 Berry Street. It was not immediately clear when Sirna plans to move into its new headquarters.
Sirna said in the filing that it will pay about $222,000 in rent under the lease, and that it has the option to extend the lease for one year.
Late last year, San Francisco also established the Mayor’s Biotech Advisory Council, a group of academic and industry players who act to promote the benefits of running biotechnology firms in the city. MayBAC is headed by merchant banker and UCSF adjunct professor Stephen Burrill, and includes Genentech co-founder Bill Rutter, Alexandria Real Estate CEO Joel Marcus, and Amgen Vice President of Research David Goddell.
MayBAC’s members “have agreed to be cheerleaders and help get their colleagues throughout the industry interested … [and aware] that San Francisco has turned the corner — that we now have space to put people in [and] we have a great new biomedical campus,” Ewing said.
While the San Francisco Mayor’s office, along with MayBAC and the San Francisco Center for Economic Development, actively woo biotechnology firms that may be interested in relocating to San Francisco, Ewing noted that oftentimes the companies make the first move. Such was the case with Sirna, he noted.
“They contacted us … in January,” he said. “A lot of people from Sirna had studied … at UCSF, but also there were personal relationships [between company employee’s and researchers in the area] that were well-established. It made a lot of sense across the board.”
Indeed, at least two of the companies’ executive management team has ties to the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to becoming Sirna’s president and CEO, Howard Robin held a number of positions at Berlex Laboratories, based in nearby Richmond. Barry Polisky, Sirna’s vice president of research, conducted his post-doctoral research at UCSF.
Sirna’s move to San Francisco “offers the company both economic and business advantages,” Robin said. “Economically, we will benefit from consolidating excess facilities thereby reducing costs. It also positions us in proximity to a large pool of highly trained scientific and research talent. We were particularly impressed with the University of California San Francisco’s focus on expanding facilities and creating what will be one of the finest clinical research facilities in the world.”