Cal State LA recognizes biotech leader and LA BioStart graduating fellows

Wendie Johnston was recognized by the LA BioStart training program at California State University, Los Angeles for her contributions to the region’s burgeoning bioscience industry.

Johnston, lab director for the Pasadena Bio Collaborative Incubator, was awarded the first LA BioStar Award during the Feb. 16 graduation ceremony for participants in the LA BioStart Bioscience Entrepreneurs Boot Camp. The award was created to honor the contributions of bioscience leaders in the region.

“The real message is: It takes a village,” Johnston told the gathering at Cal State LA. “It takes collaboration, it takes partnerships, it takes negotiations.”

Johnston’s contributions to bioscience education and training span decades. She retired from the faculty of Pasadena City College, or PCC, in 2011 after nearly 44 years and now also serves as director of the Pasadena Bio Collaborative’s training program, the Los Angeles/Orange County Biotechnology Center. The center provides biotechnology workforce development and hands-on training through local community colleges. At PCC, Johnston mentored scores of students, a number of whom have enjoyed successful careers in the bioscience industry.

“Wendie has been a great partner of Cal State LA and we are very excited to honor her and recognize her contributions and tireless efforts to help the bioscience community in Southern California,” said Howard Xu, director for incubator development and programming for LA BioSpace and a microbiology professor at Cal State LA.

Among the guests who attended the event and spoke about Johnston were Susan M. Baxter, executive director of the California State University Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology; Pasadena Bio Collaborative Incubator President Robert C. Bishop; and Poseidon LLC CEO Raj Perera.

The ceremony also celebrated the graduation of the second class of entrepreneurs to complete LA BioStart, an intensive five-week boot camp that provides participants training, mentoring and business knowledge essential to starting and sustaining successful bioscience ventures.

The boot camp, a part of LA BioSpace, is a collaborative project of Cal State LA, the Biocom Institute and the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. The boot camp is funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

LA BioStart’s second group of entrepreneurs included Cal State LA Professor Yong Ba, assisted by student Adiel Perez, whose research group aims to develop free radical labeled anticancer drugs, controlled release hydrogels, beta-cyclodextrin based drug delivery molecular carriers, biocompatible nanoparticles, and spin-labeled and functionally valued antifreeze proteins.

For Ba, the boot camp provided valuable education into how to translate his research into a bioscience venture.

“It was completely new for me,” Ba said. “It was really helpful for me to have an idea of how to start a small company with my student to achieve our purpose.”

Perez, a junior chemistry major at Cal State LA, joined Ba’s research team through the university’s Minority Opportunities in Research, or MORE programs, after transferring from Los Angeles City College.

“I got insight into the bioscience industry, not just as a technician but also as an entrepreneur,” Perez said. “It was very insightful for our future plans.”

The LA BioStart training is offered at no cost to eligible participants and led by top industry experts, who focus on critical areas such as business fundamentals, financing models, industrial research and development, regulatory affairs, leadership skills and communication strategies.

The training is part of a larger Cal State LA initiative to promote cutting-edge research and entrepreneurship and support the region’s emerging “Bioscience Valley.” The area extends along Valley Boulevard and includes Cal State LA and Grifols Biologicals, Inc. on the east, and the University of Southern California Health Sciences campus on the west.

Construction is now underway on the Rongxiang Xu Bioscience Innovation Center, which will provide laboratory space, low-cost equipment and conference rooms to help bioscience businesses turn scientific advances into job-creating ventures. The LA BioStart training program will be housed in the center.

Cal State LA Executive Vice President Jose A. Gomez lauded Johnston as a legend for her many contributions to the life science industry and education. He also congratulated the LA BioStart graduates, noting that they will help spur innovation and job creation across the region.

“We are proud of our second graduating class of LA BioStart fellows. They embody Cal State LA’s mission of engagement, service and the public good,” said Gomez, who also chairs LA BioSpace, the university’s bioscience incubator. “With the skills they’ve learned in our BioStart program, they will launch new business ventures, make scientific discoveries and create jobs that will elevate the bioscience industry and enrich our city, our region and our state.”

Article By Jillian Beck | Cal State LA News Service