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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

Mega-Clinic Provides Free Healthcare to 1,000 Homeless People

More than 700 Healthcare Professionals Joined Care Harbor on November 15 to Help Those with Limited or No Access to Healthcare

Care Harbor, a nonprofit, volunteer-based charity, began its 11th annual event at The Reef in Downtown Los Angeles with a day solely dedicated to providing free healthcare services to people experiencing homelessness in the Southern California region.

Dental work for patients from Care Harbor.  Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

“The homeless crisis in Los Angeles is everyone’s problem,” said Don Manelli, president of Care Harbor. “That is why Care Harbor is devoting an entire clinic day to the special needs of those experiencing homelessness. There’s a great need to bring the basic healthcare services to those with no homes and poor access to healthcare.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a major sponsor of the event and a leader in the effort to provide housing for the unsheltered population, called homelessness “the moral crisis of our time.”

Eye examinations available on site. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

“We don’t just have a housing crisis” the Supervisor said, “we have a healthcare crisis. We have a crisis of untreated addiction and substance abuse, of mental illness, of the trauma and suffering that comes with poverty.”

The lifespan for people who are homeless is cut short by 20 years relative to those who are not, he noted, adding that people experiencing homelessness have a 1 in 59 chance of dying on the streets. Put into perspective, that is double the rate of homicides in our County.

More than 58,000 Angelenos are experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County. For every 133 people that are housed through County services, 150 more become newly homeless.

Optometry and glasses provided at Care Harbor. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

According to an October 2019 report released by the L.A. County Department of Public Health, the number of homeless deaths doubled from 536 in 2013 to 1,047 in 2018, but the death rate, which accounts for increases in the total number of homeless people, increased by over a third during that same period. The report cites coronary heart, drug/alcohol overdose, liver disease/cirrhosis and hypertensive heart disease among the leading causes of homeless deaths.

La Tina Jackson of the L.A. County Department of Public Health called for compassion for the most vulnerable population among those who are homeless — people struggling with mental illnesses.

Blood pressure taken. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

“People with chronic mental illness are only a subset of the homeless population, but without question they are the most vulnerable; what is black and white, however, is the tremendous stigma faced by this population. But psychiatric illness is an illness,” Jackson said.

In 2018, Care Harbor piloted a program for the homeless, working with local missions, nonprofits, clinics and County agencies to provide healthcare services to this population. As a result of the success of the pilot program, this year Care Harbor worked with Los Angeles County departments and local shelters to arrange transportation to and from the clinic for homeless individuals and tailor services for this population.

In addition to providing a full range of integrative, patient-centered healthcare tailored to the needs of the homeless, the clinic will provide an expansive forum for social services and community resources. Services will also include post-clinic engagement and follow-up care, all of which are special challenges for this population.

On November 16 and 17, Care Harbor will open to members of the general public who already have a wristband and have signed up for services.

Care Harbor was founded in July of 2010 as a California-based nonprofit charity, with the vision that free health clinic events could be transformed from episodic to sustainable care.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas welcomes some of the youngest patients at Care Harbor.  Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

Facebook Live Tackles the Topic of Homelessness

Utilizing digital technology to engage people on the important topic of homelessness, Facebook hosted Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and United Way of Greater Los Angeles President and CEO Elise Buik at its Playa Vista headquarters for a candid discussion streamed on Facebook Live.

Thousands of Facebook users tuned in real time about the origins of the crisis, as well as proposed solutions. The Supervisor also encouraged people to join the movement calling for an end to homelessness by going to the Everyone In website.

Remembering Bernard J. Tyson

Bernard J. Tyson on August 14, 2019, at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, during a conversation about homelessness, the first in the club’s new Destination Health series by Kaiser Permanente. Photo taken by Ed Ritger for Kaiser Permanente.

Bernard J. Tyson and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the Commonwealth Club on August 14, 2019. Photo taken by Fernando Ramirez for the Board of Supervisors.

On November 12, 2019 the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors adjourned in the memory of Bernard J. Tyson.

Born in Vallejo, California in 1959, Bernard passed away on November 10, 2019 in Oakland, California, at the age of 60. We lost a titan of our community. At the time of his passing, he was the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Kaiser Permanente.

He was an extraordinary individual, and what made him a titan – what truly separated him from everyone else – is that everyone else would tell you the same thing. He graduated from Golden Gate University with a Bachelor’s degree and Master of Business Administration degree and worked at Kaiser Permanente for more than 30 years. He began in the medical records department and rose to President and Chief Operating Officer, before being appointed to Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in 2012. And in this role as leader to one of the most admired healthcare organizations in the country, his view of his responsibilities did not just begin and end at the boardroom table. Bernard was a stalwart and incredible partner in our statewide work to fight homelessness, changing the course of so many lives for the better.

Bernard received various accolades and recognitions, such as being named to Time Magazine’s 2017 list of the 100 Most Influential People, and 2018 list of 50 Most Influential People in health care. He also sat on the boards of such influential organizations as the American Heart Association. But as trailblazer to the highest reaches of corporate America as Kaiser Permanente’s first African-American Chief Executive Officer, it was his examples of heroism and enterprise that have given people of all backgrounds confidence, courage, and faith to pursue their own dreams.

On behalf of the Board of Supervisors and the Second District, I send the deepest condolences to his extended family, friends and colleagues, who will all miss him dearly. Let us pause and give thanks for the fact he was able to live a life full of impact and grace. May God bless his memory and keep him in peace.

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.