Forum Showcases LA County’s Dynamic Bioscience Industry And How Artificial Intelligence Is Revolutionizing Medical Invention

Scientists, engineers and executives from Los Angeles-based bioscience companies and organizations painted a vivid and panoramic picture of how artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the medical field, with much of that transformative energy taking place in Los Angeles County.

These observations highlighted a forum held at that hot-house of high-tech innovation, Google’s Spruce Goose Hanger.

Google’s Spruce Goose Hanger welcomes over 250 attendees at the Los Angeles County Bioscience Forum. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

Reviewing the field of innovators on the podium, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, co-sponsor of the event with Google, said: “AI and machine learning are playing key roles in accelerating the innovation and growth of our bioscience industry. With a boost from AI, I am confident that in the not too distant future LA County will be a world-recognized capital of bioscience.”

The LA bioscience industry currently hires an estimated 90,000 employees and supports the jobs of 100,000 others. In 2018, all sectors of the life sciences industry generated $42.5 billion of economic activity in the county. Also in 2018, the National Institutes of Health awarded a record-setting $1.1 billion in grants for bioscience research to LA County-based universities and organizations.

Director of Engineering at Google Accelerated Science Philip Nelson sets the stage by reviewing AI-assisted biomedical projects at Google.  Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

Inventiveness was on full display at the forum attended by 250 persons.  Forum keynote speaker Philip Nelson, director of engineering at Google Accelerated Science, set the stage by reviewing several notable AI-assisted biomedical projects at Google.

These include an AI-assisted system for early detection of diabetic retinopathy, a condition that yearly blinds hundreds of thousands of people globally. Detected soon enough, this condition can be treated and blindness prevented. At present, diabetic retinopathy can only be reliably detected by highly-trained ophthalmologists. Google’s AI-assisted detection system can be operated by a clinician, a development that will dramatically increase the accessibility of treatment, Nelson said. Google is also exploring similar AI-assisted imaging technology to detect breast cancer more effectively than current techniques, Nelson related.

Director of the West Coast Consortium for Technology & Innovation in Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Juan Espinosa discusses Artificial Intelligence-Based 3D Screening of Fetal Programming in Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

The forum also heard from Juan Espinosa, director of the West Coast Consortium for Technology & Innovation in Pediatrics. CTIP is centered at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) and the University of Southern California (USC). Established in 2011, CTIP is a network of children’s hospitals, academic institutions, accelerators and incubators that promotes the commercialization and clinical use of pediatric medical device technology. In 2018 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration awarded CTIP a $6.6 million grant to support its work.

In 2018, CTIP awarded $235,000 in seed grants to six innovators developing new devices and technologies for young patients, Espinosa told the audience. The 2018 grant winners included a low-cost infant microbiome monitoring device for home or clinic use, a novel short arm exoskeleton to help treat orthopedic fractures, an improved sound-delivery vest for treating respiratory conditions and a virtual reality system for treating pediatric chronic pain.

(left to right) Senior Business Director at the UCLA Technology Development Group Dina Lozofsky and Neural Analytics CEO Leo Petrossian discuss robotic systems for tracking brain health of patients.  Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

Dina Lozofsky, a senior business director at the UCLA Technology Development Group, lifted the audience’s spirits by noting the 2019 third quarter report of the National Venture Capital Association showed funding of AI startups is off-the-charts. According to the Q3 data, 965 AI-related companies in the U.S. have raised $13.5 billion in venture capital through the first 9 months of this year. “Those are record-breaking numbers,” Lozofsky said.

Lozofsky also moderated a panel consisting of the CEOs of four LA-based bioscience companies. One of the panelists was Martha Lawrence, CEO and co-founder of Torrance-based AccendoWave. AccendoWave has developed a non-opioid system for managing pain and anxiety that consists of an electroencephalogram (EEG) headband, a Samsung tablet (computer) and AI-assisted software. The EEG headband measures a patient’s distress; the patient then dials up different programs on the tablet to alleviate that distress. These programs range from animated films to music from Bach or the Beatles. Lawrence said the system has been used to treat some 58,000 patients in hospitals in three states.

At the forum, Lawrence announced her company is now partnering with AT&T to market and support the AccendoWave system. Its use does not require a doctor’s prescription and it has proved to be particularly useful in dealing with the pain issues of young people, Lawrence said. AccendoWave’s chief technology officer demonstrated the company’s pain management system at the forum.

Other forum panelists were:

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas addresses the standing room only audience at the first-of-its-kind forum. Photo by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

• Neural Analytics CEO Leo Petrossian. Petrossian talked about a recent agreement his company reached to conduct a feasibility study of its latest generation robotic system for measuring and tracking brain health of patients. The agreement is with the Ochsner Health System. Louisiana-based Ochsner owns, manages or is affiliated with 40 hospitals and 100 clinics. Neural Analytics’ device non-invasively measures a patient’s brain blood flow information to provide neurologists with critical information about the brain health of their patients. In 2017, Neural Analytics received a $10 million U.S. Department of Defense grant to develop a device for assessing combat-related traumatic brain injuries.

• Deep 6 AI CEO Wout Brusselaers. Brusselaers discussed how his company uses AI to scan tens of thousands of medical records to identify persons best-suited to participate in clinical drug trials. Now, Brusselaers explained pharmaceutical companies often take months to select clinical trial subjects and frequently pick the wrong ones. His technology, Brusselaers said, takes the guesswork and missteps out of this process, saving drug companies time and money.

• QuLab CEO Alireza Shabani. Shabani talked about his company’s development of the first integrated AI-based platform for small molecule drug design. This product will help revolutionize the discovery of new pharmaceutical products, Shabani predicted.

Accenture Senior Manager Monark Vyas discusses applied intelligence strategies. Photo by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

During his remarks, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas challenged the bioscience leaders to hire a diversified workforce. “As in the past, evolving economies have the potential to raise incomes and improve our quality of life,” Ridley-Thomas said. “But many have warned that this emerging economy will yield yet greater inequality, further widening the gap between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots.”

Such a dire result does not need to happen, Ridley-Thomas said. The Supervisor observed that Los Angeles County is working to ensure the bioscience industry has access to an LA-based workforce that is diverse and highly-trained.

Los Angeles County CEO Sachi Hamai at the forum. Photo by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

“The County recognizes the moral imperative of this mandate for equality and to that end we have funded and helped develop the Bio-Flex program,” Ridley-Thomas said. Bio-Flex, a first-in-the-nation apprenticeship training program, was launched in partnership with the South Bay Workforce Investment Board, Cal State Dominguez Hills, West LA College and the bioscience industry itself, including companies such as Bachem and Thermo Fisher Scientific, to prepare persons of color and the economically disadvantaged for jobs in the bioscience industry.

“We recently celebrated the first of what we expect will be many graduates of this program,” said the Supervisor.

The Board of Supervisors, under Ridley-Thomas’ leadership, has taken a number of steps to nurture LA’s bioscience industry. For example the County is negotiating with a nonprofit research institute to develop a biotech business park at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center campus; it has helped fund bioscience incubators at the Lundquist Institute and at California State University Los Angeles; it has approved the creation of “overlay zones” in almost a dozen locations across the county where bioscience commercial and industrial companies can co-exist free of the zoning restrictions that would otherwise make their clustering infeasible; and it has set up an investment fund, with $15 million of seed money, to provide affordable loans to small and medium-sized bioscience companies.

A more complete overview of the Board of Supervisors’ support for bioscience is outlined in an op-ed published recently in the Los Angeles Daily News and four of its sister newspapers.

County of Los Angeles Department leaders take the stage. Photo by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

Encouraging a Bioscience Bonanza in LA County

After hosting a Bioscience Summit at Loyola Marymount University, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stands with Biomedical Growth Strategies LLC President and CEO Dr. Susan Windham-Bannister, an internationally-recognized life sciences innovation executive once named one of the 10 Most Influential Women in Biotech. She currently serves as chief strategy officer at BioLA. Photo taken by Diandra Jay, Board of Supervisors.

By Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas

The entertainment industry has Hollywood. The computer world has its Silicon Valley. The financial world its Wall Street. In each case, people and companies gravitate toward their peers and the creative and entrepreneurial energy that working in proximity to each other generates.

In the booming bioscience industry the same paradigm exists. That’s why there is a life sciences cluster in Boston and a bioscience corridor in San Diego where literally hundreds of startups and mature bioscience companies operate cheek to cheek to manufacture pharmaceuticals, medical devices, sell and distribute health care products and invent new medical delivery systems.

Now, I ask, why not a bioscience cluster/corridor centered around the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center on the borders of Torrance and Carson?

One of LA County’s best kept secrets is that it is home to a growing bioscience industry that directly employs 90,000 people (indirectly another 100,000) and generates $42.5 billion in economic activity.

Last year, our region’s hospitals and universities received a record $1.1 billion in National Health Institute grants. Despite these hallmarks of success, Los Angeles’ bioscience industry has yet to become as muscular as its counterparts in Boston, San Diego and the San Francisco Bay area. In recent years, often quietly and unnoticed, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has taken steps to nurture this industry so it can achieve its potential.

One major challenge is fostering the geographic clustering of bioscience talent and companies that, once created, would act as a magnet for yet more talent and companies. The industry thrives on clustering yet LA’s bioscience firms are widely dispersed.

To help in this regard, the Board in July approved creation of “overlay zones” wherein bioscience companies can establish their operations free of existing land-use restrictions that would otherwise significantly inhibit a “clustering” of bioscience commercial and manufacturing businesses. In the same vein, the Board agreed to negotiate with the non-profit Lundquist Institute, a highly-respected bioscience research organization, to lease and develop a 15-acre county-owned parcel on the Harbor-UCLA campus and develop it as a biotech industrial park — and future anchor for a cluster zone.

The growth of the bioscience sector in LA County has also been hampered by the “leaky bucket” effect. While our colleges and universities annually produce 5,000 life sciences graduates, these young people too often take their skills and entrepreneurial talent to the marquee bioscience clusters in Boston, San Francisco and San Diego. Some of this talent “leakiness” is a result of the absence of an infrastructure in Los Angeles to support startups.

To fix this shortcoming, the Board has funded bioscience “incubator” facilities on the East Los Angeles College and Harbor-UCLA campuses where dozens of startups can rent affordable office space and labs and receive technical training and business mentoring to help them thrive. In addition, the Board has invested $15 million in a $50 million public-private fund that will make affordable loans to small and mid-sized bioscience firms.

Finally, the Board, in collaboration with the South Bay Workforce Investment Board, has helped fund Bio-Flex, an apprenticeship program with a key objective of training the disadvantaged and people of color for good jobs in the bioscience industry. It is noteworthy that the first Bio-Flex classes included Torrance and Compton residents.

LA County’s bioscience industry and the Board’s support for it are both works in progress. But if we keep our eye on the prize our region can become a world leader in developing therapies and modalities that improve our health and provide thousands of rewarding and exciting jobs for generations to come.

Mark Ridley-Thomas is a member of the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Device that Instantly Diagnoses Ear Infections Headlines the 2019 Lundquist Institute’s Innovation Showcase

Local startups working on everything from a device that diagnoses children’s ear infections with the push of a button, to a gene therapy to replace opioids, to a diagnostic providing a highly specific analysis of cancerous lesions shared their groundbreaking innovations at the Lundquist Institute’s (formerly known as LA BioMed) sixth annual Innovation Showcase. At the event, entrepreneurs gave presentations to a select group of local life science entrepreneurs,, investors, and biotech executives, and government leaders, sharing the groundbreaking work taking place in the burgeoning biotech hot spot of Los Angeles.

“This institution is distinguishing itself in ways that might not have been imagined by others, but those who are here believe and they are showing what can be done when you have a vision and you are prepared to pursue it,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas who facilitated the medical research building’s construction on County property.

This year’s event was the first Innovation Showcase to be held at the crown jewel of the Lundquist Institute’s campus at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, the new four-story, 78,000-square-foot Medical Research Lab building. The state-of-the-art building includes an 18,000-square-foot incubator, “BioLabs at The Lundquist,” with the most advanced equipment on the market. The new Medical Research Lab is a place where present and future innovators can build the great bioscience companies of the future—and the perfect setting for Monday’s event.

Presenting companies included:

  • Cactus Health, which has developed a device that diagnoses ear infections in children with the push of a button;
  • Navega Therapeutics, which is developing a gene therapy for pain relief that could replace opioids, a leading cause of drug addiction and early deaths in the United States; and
  • Catalia Health, which has created an artificial intelligence-powered virtual home health aide, providing 24/7 support to patients who need it but can’t afford a full-time person; and
  • ImaginAb, which has developed a platform that can make a highly specific assessment of each cancer lesion, potentially enabling a highly targeted treatment—and which announced a collaboration agreement early Monday morning with health care giants Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Takeda Pharmaceutical.

“From over 65 entries, a distinguished selection committee of over 25 active venture capitalists and big pharma executives chose 24 startup companies for this year’s Showcase. The competition was fierce, and I was delighted at the quality of selected presenters. The event was also blessed with a star-studded venture capital panel as well as great individual speakers covering a range of topics directly related to bioscience startups and the tools and insights that they need to be successful,” said Keith Hoffman, PhD, Senior Vice President of Business Development and Technology Transfer at The Lundquist Institute. “I want to thank all involved, from sponsors, selection committee members, speakers, and, of course, the innovative entrepreneurs that captivated us with their medical breakthroughs, for one heck of a great show!”

Drawing from throughout the western United States, the Innovation Showcase provided a forum for academic institutions to promote and share their startups and early stage technologies with leading investors and strategic partners. The program featured 24 curated bioscience presentations with two tracks (therapeutics and medical devices/other) along with a distinguished lineup of speakers.

This year’s speakers include Bethany Mancilla, Vice President of Corporate Development at Kite Pharma, a subsidiary of Gilead Sciences Inc.; Susie Harborth, Chief Operating Officer of BioLabs, Rohit Shukla, CEO of The Larta Institute, Sean Harper, Managing Director of Westlake Village BioPartners; Los Angeles County Supervisor Hon. Mark Ridley Thomas—and the Lundquist Institute President and CEO David Meyer as well as its Senior Vice President of Business Development and Technology Transfer, Keith Hoffman.

“The Lundquist Institute has a nearly seven-decade track record of life sciences innovation,” said Dr. David Meyer, PhD, President and CEO of the Lundquist Institute. “As our institute enters a transformative phase, we were thrilled to welcome some of the next great health and science startups to our new state-of-the-art research facility.”


A Fair Chance at a Fresh Start

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks at the launch of on the steps of the Hall of Administration. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Los Angeles County launched the Fair Chance Campaign, urging businesses to give all competent job applicants a fair chance at employment, including those seeking a fresh start after being in the justice system.

“Hiring justice-involved individuals is not only good for business, but provides an opportunity to transform lives,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “Stable employment can help individuals reenter society with the tools they need to lead healthy and productive lives, leading to greater safety in our communities.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Hilda L. Solis coauthored motions to establish fair chance hiring policies for those seeking LA County government jobs, and to create a fair chance ordinance for businesses that contract with LA County or do business with unincorporated areas.

“Today, we challenge employers to think outside the box when making their hiring decisions,” Supervisor Solis said. “Studies clearly show that hiring rehabilitated people with past records is a smart business move: they work harder, stay longer, and promote faster than other employees. LA County also offers incentives and support to businesses that hire individuals who have been justice-involved. Everyone deserves a fair chance to get back on their feet – and when they do, everyone benefits.”

The Fair Chance Campaign does not seek to give anyone preferential treatment, nor does it call for hiring an unqualified person with an arrest or conviction record. Instead, it is intended to eliminate discriminatory obstacles for competent candidates, with the goal of boosting the economy, promoting public safety, and reducing dependence on public benefits.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Vincent Bragg, who founded the advertising agency ConCreates. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Research shows approximately one in three working-age Americans has a felony criminal record and up to 65 percent of individuals released from incarceration are unemployed a year after release. Yet, according to the Society of Human Resource Managers, the largest human resource professional organization in the world, 82 percent of managers believe the quality of work by formerly incarcerated individual is just as high or even higher than that of the rest of their workforce.

“There is a great need for work opportunities among members of the reentry community,” said Vincent Bragg, who founded the advertising agency ConCreates after leaving prison and is one of many reentry success stories. “Too many of us have been undervalued and overlooked because of complex circumstances. It is vital to have programs like this that can help move the needle toward meaningful change.”

“We have been hiring reentry individuals for several years and can attest to the dedication, reliability and incredible work ethic of our justice-involved employees,” AMS Fulfillment chief workforce development officer Ken Wiseman said. “It is great to see the County offering incentives to businesses that hire from this pool of qualified, talented people.”

As part of the Fair Chance Campaign, business executives will be asked to sign the Fair Chance Hiring Pledge, which is a commitment to provide justice-involved individuals a fair chance to participate and to thrive in our economy by promoting fair chance hiring practices.

Companies that sign the pledge will receive guidance from County Business Services Representatives who will work with them to recruit and keep qualified candidates. The County connects businesses to tax credits, training reimbursement, and other resources when they hire qualified workers who were once incarcerated.

The Fair Chance Hiring Campaign also seeks to raise awareness of California’s Fair Chance Act, which went into effect in January 2018. The law generally prohibits businesses with more than five employees from asking about a job candidate’s criminal record before tendering a conditional job offer.

Statement By Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on the Florence Library

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at Florence Library. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

“I have always valued libraries as important — not to mention beloved —  community assets. Over the last decade, I’ve spearheaded the construction or renovation of several libraries in my District, including Willowbrook, View Park, Lennox, Culver City, and A.C. Bilbrew, to name just a few. Since the original Florence Library was built almost 50 years ago, and showing its age, I envisioned replacing it with a larger, more technically advanced and more accessible facility that would address our residents’ current needs.

“Given the state of emergency around homelessness, however, we must also prioritize affordable housing. The initial plan was to incorporate a  library into the footprint of the affordable housing project. Ultimately, however, this was not viable. An alternative plan, located on Compton and Nadeau Avenues, was presented to residents at several community meetings but they turned it down.

“Community input is important to me, so we shifted gears and have hired a real estate consultant to help us search for other suitable spaces  within the Florence Firestone area while operating a temporary library facility in nearby Roosevelt Park. I hope the community will partner with me as we try to find the best way forward to build the modern library that our residents deserve.”

Florence Library Teen Advisory Board - August 22 2009