UCSF's Mission Bay campus celebrates 10 years


UCSF's sprawling Mission Bay campus, sits just to the south of AT&T Park, and smack in the center of San Francisco's new biotech boomtown. University researcher Keith Yamamoto, Ph.D., helped with the planning, and remembers a far different landscape of empty warehouses and railroad yards a decade ago.

"It was a wasteland. My colleagues told me, 'We're not going to go there,'" said Yamamoto.

The campus started with the construction Genentech Hall and a philosophy, of "build it and they will come."

Flash forward 10 years and the campus is now home to Nobel Prize winners including Elizabeth Blackburn, and stem cell investigator Shina Yamanaka. Walk into one lab, and you might see researchers coaxing stems cells into living, beating heart tissue… while a short distance away, another team works on building an artificial kidney. But Yamamoto says their unique mission is not just to make discoveries, but to share them with the outside world.

"We've been the home for a long time of great clinical work and great basic science. We wanted Mission Bay to be more than just putting the two together," said Yamamoto.

To make that happen, designers created space for private start-ups, like the lab known as "The Garage." Director Reg Kelly, Ph.D., says it's open to whoever can scratch up the rent.

"They're the people who've got fire in the belly. If you want to start new companies, you've got to work long hours, for peanut butter sandwiches and students are good at that," said Kelly.

uBiome, a startup we profiled earlier this month, is an example of that. They turned a UC research project that sequenced bacteria in the human stomach, into a mail order business financed by crowd sourcing in a little over six months.

"The only mechanism I know currently to do that is to move it out into a company and to try to get small business grant money and investors to turn a discovery into a product," said Kelly.

The result has been a kind of magnet effect. When the University of California first broke ground on Mission Bay, they say there was one major biotech firm based in the city, now there are more than 100, with many housed near the campus.

"Fifty of them are start-ups that came out of UCSF," said Yamamoto.

It's a legacy of change that could continue to reshape the southeastern side of San Francisco for in the decades to come.

"From design, art, everything!" said Kelly. "This will be the place where young people want to come from all over the country and think, 'The place I can most likely be successful is at Mission Bay.'"

UCSF plans to mark the anniversary with a ceremony at Mission Bay on Wednesday.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

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