San Diego Regional EDC's annual Duane Roth Renaissance Award goes to an organization chosen because its work is "creating outstanding inventions, innovations or breakthroughs that have changed and improved the world around us." But this year's may be more whole-world-changing than most: the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
It was 60 years ago that Salk, fresh from developing his polio vaccine, was looking to "create a collaborative environment where researchers could explore the basic principles of life and contemplate the wider implications of their discoveries for the future of humanity," explains the Institute in its history. In stepped the city in 1960 with a nice little gift: 27 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Salk then partnered with architect Louis Kahn to design the center. "He summarized his aesthetic objectives by telling Kahn to 'create a facility worthy of a visit by Picasso,' " says the Institute.
Most agree that the mission was accomplished, at a structure that seems to breathe with the earth, water and sky at the same time it takes your breath away. Indeed, Kahn, profiled in his son's moving 2003 documentary My Architect, seemed to understand the nature of collaboration: "How accidental our existences are, really, and how full of influence by circumstance," he said in archive footage.
Salk Institute knows how to create the conditions for the sort of happy accidents that can influence all of science. The Institute has been issued 560 patents, and has spun out 38 companies from discoveries pursued on its grounds, where the researchers represent 46 countries. The Institute's major study areas are aging and regenerative medicine, cancer biology, immune system biology, metabolism and diabetes, neuroscience and neurological disorders and plant biology.
“The Salk Institute is a curious place, not easily understood, and the reason for it is that this is a place in the process of creation," said Jonas Salk. "It is being created and is engaged in studies of creation. We cannot be certain what will happen here, but we can be certain it will contribute to the welfare and understanding of man.”
Duane Roth, co-vice chairman of California’s stem cell research funding agency the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) and founder and CEO of Connect, a San Diego nonprofit promoting the technology and life sciences industries, died in 2013 at the age of 63 from injuries suffered in a bicycle accident.
CIRM has $3 billion in funding and approximately 300 active stem cell programs in its portfolio. Salk Institute researchers have received 21 grants totaling more than $51.6 million from CIRM since its inception in 2004.
Salk Institute in November received another recognition that resonates with the Roth award and its penchant for making connections. A new report by Nature Research ranked the Institute second in the world (to Harvard) for high-quality, high-impact scientific collaborations in the life sciences, based on a series of metrics related to papers published between January 1, 2012, and December 31, 2015, to evaluate over 8,500 scientific institutions across the globe.
“Our reputation for encouraging collaboration is one of the main reasons top scientists choose to come to Salk,” said Salk President Elizabeth Blackburn.
That spirit infects the entire San Diego bioscience culture. A 2015 study by the San Diego Regional EDC concluded that the region's research institutions impact roughly 37,000 jobs and have a combined $4.6 billion total impact on the region’s gross regional product every year. In addition to Salk, the ecosystem includes the University of California, San Diego; the J. Craig Venter Institute; the Neurosciences Institute; Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute; and Scripps Research Institute.
Independent research institutes in San Diego receive more NIH research funding and generate more patents than counterparts in any metro area of the United States, the report further stated. The area is home to 111 living National Academy of Science members and more than 2,600 postdocs within research institutions alone.
"The $4.6 billion economic impact of research institutions equates to that of four San Diego Convention Centers, 34 San Diego Comic-Cons, six aircraft carriers, or 33 U.S. Open Golf Championships every year," stated the San Diego Regional EDC report. "All scientific R&D, including for-profit enterprises, generates $14.4 billion annually in economic impact—roughly equal to the region’s visitor industry."