Big3Bio Q&A: CLSA CEO Sara Radcliffe (Part 1)

Note: Ahead of the AdvaMed conference next week in San Diego and the BIO Investor Forum in San Francisco two weeks later, Big3Bio has a two-part Q&A series with new California Life Sciences Association (CLSA) President and CEO Sara Radcliffe – the first part is today through Friday (two questions a day), a week prior to AdvaMed, and the second part will be Oct. 12-16th, a week prior to the BIO Investor Forum. [UPDATE: Part 2 here]

Bio: Sara Radcliffe
was appointed the president and chief executive officer of the California Life Sciences Association in December 2014. She formerly served as the Executive Vice President for Health at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). Previously, Sara served as Senior Director, Biologics & Biotechnology at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). Sara holds a Master of Public Health and a Master of Arts in Philosophy from the Johns Hopkins University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Wellesley College.

Big3Bio: CLSA officially launched in May  – how do you describe CLSA to those unfamiliar with the organization?
Radcliffe: California Life Sciences Association is California’s leading voice to drive innovation for our life sciences sector. CLSA is a product of the merger of the California Healthcare Institute and BayBio and really builds on the strengths of both of these organizations. The missions of the two organizations were very aligned – to advance the life sciences sector – and that is the mission of the California Life Sciences Association as well, to advance the life sciences sector in a couple ways. First of all, we offer the trifecta of influence around policy and advocacy initiatives at the national, state and local level, and second, by providing an “on-the-ground” comprehensive member experience to advance our state’s life sciences sector and support entrepreneurs and life sciences businesses.
With offices in San Diego, the Bay Area, Sacramento and Washington, D.C., we’re excited about the road ahead and delivering results for our more than 750 diverse members that range from biotechnology, pharmaceutical, medical device, and diagnostics companies, research universities and institutes, investors, and service providers.
In addition to having a robust federal, state and local public policy advocacy focus, we serve the entire California’s life sciences ecosystem. From San Diego to the Bay Area, we’re equally focused on maintaining a full range of programs and events, support services and entrepreneur resources that connect the entire Golden State. CLSA’s focus is rooted in our tagline: Advocate. Connect. Innovate – we’re here to serve California’s entire life sciences innovation ecosystem.
Big3Bio: You were at BIO before this position — what insights did that experience give you as far as how you’re approaching this role with CLSA?
Radcliffe: At BIO, I had the opportunity to work with BIO’s President and CEO Jim Greenwood, a 24-year legislator and great role model. He has an irrepressible and bold optimism and deep integrity, as well as extensive knowledge of the policy and advocacy environment in Washington. I also led a terrific team of policy analysts, and together we helped the industry work with other stakeholders to develop positions on very complex issues, including the many facets of the Affordable Care Act. Finally, I was directly responsible for the operations of the Health Section Governing Board, composed of 69 leading industry executives.
I learned something new from them every day that I was able to bring to CLSA. I’m excited to bring these experiences to CLSA and lead the nation’s now largest statewide life sciences public policy advocacy and business solutions organization.
Big3Bio: What would you tell a biotech entrepreneur looking for a location to start his/her new venture about California? How could CLSA help?
Radcliffe: This state was first populated by pioneers who came across country imagining a new world, and that’s what we are doing as an industry – imagining a new world where we can address national health challenges for patients, and create clean fuels and novel crops to address energy and food needs worldwide. Entrepreneurs choose everyday to locate in California in order to take advantage of the tremendous resources available, including incubators and accelerators that are expanding and providing invaluable resources to entrepreneurs, start-ups and research labs, throughout the entire state and particularly in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange County regions.
At the core of CLSA’s mission is to connect entrepreneurs with opportunities and resources to grow. In addition to CLSA’s efforts, our non-profit partner, the California Life Sciences Institute (CLSI), works to ensure that the fundamental components of the state’s life sciences ecosystem remains vibrant and robust. CLSI programs are strategically focused in the three vital areas: first, entrepreneurship – connecting life sciences entrepreneurs to essential capital and resources, next is education, that is, bringing together industry and academia to improve STEM education, and lastly careers, which includes exposing students to career pathways and opportunities, connecting employers with talent, and providing ongoing professional development.
Big3Bio: What is CLSA’s role in assisting life science innovation in California?
Office2Radcliffe: We are seeing tremendous advances in digital health and big data, which can be used to understand health challenges better and then design highly effective products that are responsive to individual needs – this is so-called personalized medicine or precision medicine. We have to help people understand that the innovation cannot continue in this and other areas of pioneering research unless there is a sustainable pipeline of resources to support that. In my view, that is our overarching challenge.
We also have the opportunity to better demonstrate the value of medical innovation. A growing theme among many stakeholders is that medical innovations are often too expensive and/or of questionable value. CLSA is working to recapture and reshape the public narrative away from the cost of innovation and toward the value of innovation.
We’re working to highlight the value that innovative medicines bring to our economy and patient care, while calling attention to the unfortunate tactics health insurance companies are using to shift costs to patients and raise rates. It’s important we balance the conversation between innovation, cost and access.
In Sacramento, we’re also taking aggressive steps to educate legislators on the value of biomedical innovation. We need to better communicate the value that new medicines and technologies bring to patients and our healthcare system.
Big3Bio: What are some big events or developments that you’re looking forward to in the coming few years?
Radcliffe: Over the next few years, California will play host to a number of prominent industry events.
AdvaMed will have their annual medical device conference in San Diego and in San Jose in 2017. BIO will hold its international convention in San Francisco in 2016 and San Diego in 2017. It’s a testament to the strength of the life sciences sector in California that these organizations have each chosen to locate in our state two years in a row. CLSA works with many other organizations in setting the agendas for these conferences, ensuring that the sector’s key topics and figures are strategically weaved into the programs.
We also look forward to continue building connections between members of the life sciences community through our suite of programs and tailored event productions. Life sciences businesses and organizations operate in a highly regulated and challenging business environment. CLSA will offer programs that facilitate discussions between industry leaders and key policymakers so that the regulatory environment encourages innovation.
We will continue to host roundtables bringing key policymakers and industry leaders together to discuss legislation affecting the sector*, such as the 21st Century Cures initiative and upcoming renewal of the FDA user fee laws. We will also push for innovation by connecting life sciences entrepreneurs with potential partners, for example through our Partnering Days program, and through the great programs of our partner, CLSI.
*Recent CLSA News: CLSA & Biocom Respond To Rep. Darrell Issa On Patent Litigation Legislation Comments
From release: “These remarks seem to suggest a lack of understanding of the extraordinary value and complexity of life sciences innovation, as well as the fundamental importance that companies, and their investors, place on patents and the ability to protect and enforce them, ” responded Sara Radcliffe, President & CEO, California Life Sciences Association (CLSA) and Joe Panetta, President & CEO, Biocom.
“In addition to developing life-saving treatments and therapies, California’s biomedical sector is also an increasingly important element of our state’s economy. California is the world leader in life sciences innovation, with over 2,500 companies employing nearly 300,000 Californians, paying over $27 billion in annual salaries and wages and accounting for $22 billion in global exports. It is crucial to protect and promote these jobs and the innovation they generate, not discredit or dismiss our ecosystem’s concerns.” Full release
Big3Bio: I read this somewhere: “The greatest challenge for leaders is to know the difference between what has to be preserved and what needs to be changed. The “genius” of leadership is being able to preserve an organization’s core values, and yet change and adapt as times require.” What values of BayBio and CHI are you preserving for CLSA and what do you hope to change in time?

I have been highly impressed by both the BayBio and CHI staff ever since I arrived. Our team is passionate about the future of the life sciences, and has a strong orientation toward member service. They exhibit the highest integrity, and are both focused on achievement and nimble in responding to our fast moving environment. They have respect for each other, and through this time of change they have come together as a team to ensure that our advocacy work on behalf members and the life sciences never falters. Now that we are a statewide association covering all applications of the life sciences for patients and consumers, and from discovery to market, the challenge before us to think big — just as our membership does — about how to foster transformative life sciences innovation into the future.
Big3Bio: What was your dream job as a kid and why?
Radcliffe: I had several “dream jobs” as I grew up, all related to travel and discovering the world. When I was very little I thought it would be wonderful to be a flight attendant (that was back when flying was fun!), and then I wanted to be a travel writer, an international journalist, or a nature photographer in exotic places. As we grow up I think we understand that any kind of adventuresome exploration is most meaningful when you come home, and use the knowledge you gained to make the world a better place. My work now is also a form of exciting exploration, in that I get to find out what our members are doing at the frontiers of innovation, and then think about how to translate that knowledge into policies and infrastructure that advance the life sciences for the betterment of our world.
Big3Bio: What is CLSA’s relationship with other regional-based industry organizations like Biocom?

Radcliffe: Biocom has been a partner to the legacy organizations (BayBio and California Healthcare Institute) for a long time. We look forward to continued partnerships as CLSA. We worked together on the CalBIO Conference, which I think is highly valued by our life sciences community. We are partners in a number of our purchasing group offerings. We are working together on a series of different events and most importantly, we are partners in the lead up to AdvaMed 2015 and 2017 and BIO 2016 and 2017. So it has been a very important relationship in the past and we envision that continuing. As the statewide life sciences association, CLSA will continue to support our Bay Area life sciences community as well as our other clusters across California, including in and around San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange County. We will do that through CLSA activities and programs, but we also look forward to continued and new partnerships with regional associations in all those areas.
Big3Bio: Lastly, now that you’re in California, what will you do or look forward to doing in your free time away from work/CLSA?

Radcliffe: California is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Every day, I get to drive along the stunning Pacific Coast and among redwoods to get to and from work, and I’m grateful for it every morning and every evening. So, in my free time I want to see as much of California’s natural beauty as I can – coast, mountains, desert, forests. I also enjoy a great meal, and plan to sample California cuisine and wines the length and breadth of the state!

Look for Part 2 of the Q&A on Oct 12-16, a week before the BIO Investor Forum in San Francisco; to learn more about CLSA or to join, please visit