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CLSI 2020 Highlights

In every sense of the word, 2020 has been extraordinary. As this is “penned”, California is receiving the first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, while cases – and those who have succumbed to the pandemic – soar. Our industry has raced to develop, lead and join collaborations to diagnose, treat, and ultimately prevent the virus. Our schools and educators have also pivoted, overnight, to deliver meaningful science instruction to students from a distance.

While we have found new ways to connect and serve, and to expand our reach beyond our immediate geographies, we have also witnessed the pandemic’s uneven impact on communities across the state and globe, on health, and on the ability to bring digital instruction equitably to all homes.

Throughout this year, the Institute has strived to address the new and continuing needs of our life sciences community – in particular, the startups, students, educators and professionals who inspire our pillar work every day. We extend our gratitude to the outstanding startups, researchers, students, educators, advisors, friends and other supporters who are the inspiration and backbone of CLSI’s efforts to support California’s world-class life sciences innovation pipeline.

Below are 10 Highlights from 2020

1 | As the world turned upside-down last spring, CLSI hurried to put together a Small Business Response Team to address critical questions that young companies were confronting in the areas of finance, supply chain, HR and more.


2 | CLSI provided an unprecedented 58 young companies and researchers from California and beyond with advisory services from a network of over 425 experienced industry advisors. In addition to the Bay Area, Davis, Los Angeles, and San Diego, our reach extended to Canada, Germany, Japan, Korea, Scandinavia and the U.K.

To date, 79 California-based FAST startups  have completed the FAST advisory program, and have collectively raised over $1.5B, including 30 Series A investments; 20 have concluded strategic partnerships, 6 have successfully exited, of which 2 have gone public. FAST graduates have more than tripled their workforce, creating 500 new jobs. This success is in part due to the over 8,000 hours offered by CLSI’s advisor network valued at over $1.9B.

3 | CLSI provided introductions for 386 young companies to 3 pharma companies through our various Partnering programs, including a Partnering Day with AbbVie in October. In newer models of partnering services – Continuous Innovation Access, and CLSA Strategic Innovation Partnerships – CLSI is working to introduce partners to emerging opportunities on a real-time basis. CLSI Partnering Programs leverage over 25 years of relationships in California, including our deep knowledge of “under the radar” startups and a compelling pipeline of companies that have graduated from our FAST accelerator.

4 | CLSI continued to serve as an accelerator to CARB-X, the globe’s largest public-private partnership devoted to accelerating antibacterial innovation, which has awarded over $261.6M in grants to date to 75 projects from all over the world. CLSI has continued to assist select CARB-X applicants and portfolio companies, and to provide advisory services for German researchers who are seeking to commercialize their AMR products. Julie Harness, CLSI Sr. Director of Innovation Services, presented on CLSI’s role as a CARB-X accelerator during BARDA Industry Day in October.


The COVID-19 pandemic marshalled some amazing responses and triumphs from our companies, education partners and students.

5 | In South San Francisco Unified School District – a district with large numbers of low-income students and English language learners – a team of life science companies stepped up to help students get connected to devices thanks to the SSF Science Empowerment Initiative led by CLSA and CLSI. The campaign raised almost $650K, including a generous matching grant and donation of half a million by Genentech, and contributions from Cytomx, Johnson & Johnson Innovation/JLABS, Principia, Alexandria Real Estate, Bristol Myers Squibb, Nkarta, and Sutro Biopharma.

6 | CLSI partner NexGeneGirls – which offers rigorous hands-on-training, internships, and leadership development to female high school students from San Francisco’s underrepresented communities – saw two more program graduates gain full scholarships to 4-year colleges this fall: Eyuche Okorie to the University of Southern California, and Samaa Racheed to Boston University!

CLSI and NexGeneGirls founder, Marlena Jackson, are taking their partnership to the next level, and are currently raising funds to bring on a Program Director. To date, generous contributions from Nektar Therapeutics, Horizon Therapeutics, Johnson & Johnson Innovation/JLABS, Bristol Myers Squibb, Latham & Watkins and Alan Mendelson will support the 2021 NexGeneGirls program!

7 | COVID-19 did not stop American High School 11th grader Shreya Ramachandran, the first-place winner of CLSI’s 2020 Bay Area BioGENEius Challenge, from receiving High Honors – one of three awards given in the 2020 International BioGENEius Competition – for the Global Sustainability category! She also won the Gene Pool competition, a one-minute shark tank pitch, for her research on Water Recycling: The Effect of Soap Nut Grey Water on the Soil Microbiome.

8 | Talk about making lemons out of lemonade, look at how CLSI education partner, BABEC, turned COVID-19 into a learning experience for community college students. Read here. Through a combination of teacher professional development and highly leveraged, portable biotech supplies and equipment, BABEC helps students develop an interest in science, consider science as a career, and become scientifically literate citizens.


9 | CLSI was proud to help debut two programs spearheaded by partners at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and City College of San Francisco (CCSF), and Slone Partners, respectively:

  • The NSF-supported TRAIN UP Inclusive Research Mentoring program is designed specifically to help mentor-managers engage effectively with direct reports, including those who are under-represented in the life sciences industry, as well as entry-level researchers and interns. CLSI will be working with the partners and an industry advisory group this spring to adapt the training as a professional development opportunity for managers. Please contact Lori if you are interested in being part of the industry advisory group.
  • ENVISION, designed to help underrepresented community college students develop the skillsets and networks necessary to succeed in the life sciences. Formed in partnership with City College of San Francisco’s (CCSF) Biotechnology Program, the Gladstone Institutes PUMAS Program, and CLSI, the program creates career-focused mentorships between life science executives and underrepresented students who are within 6-12 months of graduating.

Both programs, as well as several of the Institute’s Education programs have received additional focus and visibility through the new California Life Sciences Association & Institute’s Racial & Social Equity Initiative.

10 | CA Workforce Trends Report

CLSI paused production of the biennial California Workforce Trends report this spring as a result of the COVID pandemic.  The disruptions that led us to pause the report, however, now make production of the 2021 report more important than ever. We thus plan to include a special focus on the impact of COVID-19, as well as the increased focus on diversity, equity and inclusion by life science employers, on the industry’s talent demand.

Produced in partnership with the Biocom Institute, the report has enjoyed visibility with the CA Select Committee on Biotech, HR conferences, academic partners, legislative staff briefings, and other stakeholders. The 2021 report will be released this June at BIO Digital.


CLSI also welcomed new staff and board members this year, bringing Shikha Sharma and Johnson Yang onto our Innovation Services team, and welcoming new board members Monica Beam, Ph.D., SVP, Science & Technology at Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. and Alexandria Venture Investments, Mara Brazer, CEO of Brazer Communications, Lisa Carmel, VP Strategy, Ximedica, and Gail Maderis, CEO of Antiva Biosciences.

The Institute’s remarkable Team and Board have supported so many in our ecosystem who have navigated a year like no other. We look forward to taking this important work into the coming year, to supporting the students, startups, professionals, educators, teachers and companies who will fuel the next generation of life-saving innovations.

Wishing you safe and healthy holidays, and all the best for the year ahead.

Johnson, Julie, Lori, Shikha & Steve