Someone’s in the Kitchen With…

March 26, 2011
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Andrew Wylegala is the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Serivce’s Senior Commercial Officer in Hong Kong.

Day #2 and I am working my way down the Golden State from San Francisco to San Jose on the road to the big Asian exporters’ round-up at USC on Monday, the Asia Pacific Business Outlook Conference.   Colleagues from San Jose’s Export Assistance Center are introducing me to their U.S. clients so I can learn their export needs and introduce Hong Kong’s many business “charms.”  Today I am to trade helix in glass (see previous post) for helix in nucleotides. Those, instant 8th Grade recall tells me, would be the building blocks of our cells, the study of which has spawned San Jose’s latest cluster, a community of scientists and v-cap types forming “The Capital of Biotech.”   Meeting the “brainiacs” and medical pioneers populating this sector makes one proud to “sell American.”  The U.S. biotech industry is one of the innovative champions of our economy. In Northern California, alone, there are over 2,200 biotech companies employing over 267,700 people with an average annual wage of $72,000 a year.  In California, the industry generates an estimated $114 billion in revenues and $15.4 billion in exports.

Tom Moran (left) of Camptologics and Senior Commercial Officer Hong Kong Andrew Wylegala

After I give an hour’s talk about Hong Kong “market opps” to a group of 15 lifesciences companies in San Jose’s gleaming new city hall — and have a Sonoma Chicken fix with the colleagues — it is off to a pair of site visits that bring home the extremes of the innovation–commercialization–export continuum.  The first stop is Mountain View, CA, home of the Googleplex, as well as our target, Mr. Tom Moran, a senior patent attorney and one of three co-founders of biopharmaceutical company Camptologics.  As we sit around the not-just-proverbial kitchen table in Tom Moran’s home, I learn of the anti-cancer drugs which Camptologics hopes to develop and test in the U.S. and China.  Camptologics has just successfully used the Commercial Service to vet partners.  But they have a long road ahead and I am getting a sense of the profound challenges my organization faces in updating our service offerings so we can better help the new types of actors who populate this cutting edge field.

The final stop for the day is further up the line, in terms of geography, and stage/scope of business.  It is time to head to Menlo Park (home of Joan Baez, by the way) to be dazzled by — hold your breath — “a third generation DNA sequencing platform,” a powerful tool that will allow researchers to work better and faster on problems from drug discovery to forensics. Excitement suffuses the Pacific Biosciences campus, for which the firm has recently raised several hundred million in funding from an IPO, and is just one quarter away from realizing exports of its new instruments and consumables.  My San Jose colleague, Gabriela, and I can’t help but be swept up in the thrill, ourselves, as we slip on the protective glasses and clean suits and wonder at a  blur of nanofabrication, chemistry and optics technologies being put on display by this team of world-class scientists and engineers.  But even at this end of the development spectrum, it appears that firms like this one still seek and need USDOC services as much as the back-of-the-napkin set.   I note that one of Pacific’s large, potential customers has just opened up down the road in Hong Kong … and the wheels start turning.   And, as we depart the still-buzzing campus at 5:30 pm, we catch welcome news that our new clients in Menlo Park are considering joining the Biotech Life Science Trade Mission to China which a senior USDOC official will be leading from October 17th of this year.

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