GEN’s top 10 U.S. biopharma clusters offer, to borrow the oft-used phrase, something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.

Old is the trio of regions atop the list—the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston/Cambridge, MA, and San Diego. Those regions have usually headed any of a number of top-biotech-region lists published in recent years. New could be New York, which placed at the middle of the list; or new innovation, as in patents awarded, one of this list’s five key criteria. The other four are NIH grant funding, venture capital funding, total lab space in the region, and number of jobs. Borrowed is how investors hope startups view the millions they receive in venture capital—not because startups cannot lose money or go bust (they do often), but because those investors expect repayment, with substantial returns, from the awards.

Blue is how someone who needs solid information that cuts across regions must feel after seeing how fragmented the data is across numerous groups, many of which are advocates for a particular region or a government or nonprofit using the data to justify a larger presence in biopharma. One ambitious attempt at a unified ranking system for biotech regions came more than a year ago from the real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle. But because definitions may differ across regions, users are at risk of seeing cluster comparisons that feel more like another well-worn phrase: comparing apples to oranges.

#10. Chicago

While the bottom of a top-10 list is usually not much to brag about, just making the list shows how far the Windy City and its suburbs have progressed in biopharma over the past decade. Chicagoland was eighth in patents granted (360), though the number of applied-for patents published was 800 in 2012, double just four years earlier. The region was ninth in VC funding (about $87 million) and 10th in NIH funding ($48.4 million). It doesn’t have the lab market or workforce size (29,230 within the 560-acre Illinois Medical District) of the larger clusters. And it recently lost the 2016 Biotechnology Industry Organization convention to San Francisco. But the region is home to AbbVie and the U.S. headquarters of Japanese pharma giants Takeda Pharmaceutical and Astellas Pharma. And any region that hosts the annual BIO International Convention three times in less than a decade (2006, 2010, 2013) can’t be that bad.

#9. Los Angeles

The nation’s second-largest city is at the center of California’s third biopharma region after San Francisco and San Diego. Yet the Los Angeles region has some notable employers, from Amgen in Thousand Oaks, to California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, and UCLA in, where else? Together they employed 23,054 people in “biomedical” positions (California Biomedical Industry Report 2013), giving the region one of the smallest workforces among the top-10. LA placed ninth in NIH funding ($65.4 million) but climbed to the middle of the pack in patents granted (550).

#8. Raleigh-Durham, NC (includes Research Triangle Park, NC)

North Carolina’s biopharma mecca is up toward the middle in NIH grants (sixth at $109.3 million), among the top in jobs (58,000), but decidedly down the list in patents (ninth at 312) and VC funding (eighth at about $150 million). A generation after Research Triangle Park drew pharma manufacturing from the Northeast, the region’s industry is riding a wave of contract research organization growth, anchored by the headquarters of the world’s largest CRO, Quintiles. Last month the Research Triangle Foundation paid $17 million to acquire about 100 additional acres, some of which is expected to draw new biopharmas.

#7. Philadelphia

The birthplace of Liberty has sought to leverage its heritage as a pharma mecca to build a more diverse concentration of biopharma businesses and institutions (including 25 medical schools) that has grown to 42,000 jobs (according to regional economic development group Select Greater Philadelphia). Anchors include Philadelphia’s University City Science Center, where earlier this month the University of Pennsylvania agreed to expand to 55,900 square feet in a new office-lab building being co-developed by the center and Wexford Science & Technology. While the region’s NIH grant haul is strong enough to place fourth ($123.4 million), the region was seventh in drawing private capital ($164 million) and in patents (368).

#6. Seattle

The home of Starbucks wins plenty of NIH bucks—enough to be ranked third ($147.2 million). And while the city of the Super Bowl-champion Seahawks took home even more VC bucks ($238 million), the region only scored sixth on that measure. That reflects the region’s being anchored more to academic and independent research institutions than local companies; combined, all employers account for nearly all the state’s 35,500 life-sci jobs. Seattle also scored sixth in patents (618) and is also middle-of-the-pack in lab space at five million square feet.

#5. New York

The Big Apple is big in grant money—it finished second in NIH funds so far in FY 2014 ($175.1 million), thanks to its concentration of top flight research hospitals, which account for most of the city’s 60,000+ bio jobs (New York City Economic Development Corp.). But New York and its suburbs are only now playing catchup in commercializing that research. The region still has a ways to go, since it’s fifth in patents (730), fifth in VC financing ($326 million), and toward the bottom in lab space (1.7 million square feet)—which could change if 1.1 million square feet now in development gets built as planned.

#4. Maryland / Suburban Washington, DC

The home region of NIH is also home to the nation’s longtime academic leader in research grant funding, the Johns Hopkins University. Hopkins’ $69.5 million accounted for more than three-quarters (78.5%) of the grant funding awarded by the agency to the region ($88.6 million), which finished eighth on that measure. In Montgomery County, MD, the center of the region’s biopharma activity, NIH is the largest employer and FDA, third largest. Yet many of Maryland’s 71,600 life sciences jobs (BioMaryland) are at biopharmas, the largest being AstraZeneca’s MedImmune subsidiary and GlaxoSmithKline, which snapped up home-grown Human Genome Sciences in 2012. Maryland/Washington also lags in lab space (6 million square feet), but places a solid fourth in both patents (1,200) and VC funding ($353 million).

#3. San Diego

The San Diego region placed third in patents (1,335), VC funding ($386 million), and lab space (13.05 million square feet), hence its ranking here as third. But the city that calls itself “America’s Finest” lagged in NIH funding (7th at $98.4 million) despite its dense concentration of research institutes and one of the larger campuses within the University of California system. The region’s industry group Biocom counted 56,605 jobs in San Diego County in 2012, 143 more jobs than Massachusetts—a figure expected to grow about 6% by this year.

#2. Boston / Cambridge, MA

The region that’s home to the World Series-winning Red Sox also outslugged the competition in NIH funds, accounting for about 75% of all Massachusetts’ grant money from the agency ($201.4 million), but lost to San Francisco on patents (2,908) and also finished second to the Bay Area in VC funding ($979 million) and lab space (18.687 million square feet). The region accounts for nearly all the state’s 56,462 industry jobs in 2012 (according to MassBio), but that number should start climbing this year, when the first construction projects conclude in a building boom totaling 3.5+ million square feet of lab and office space valued at more than $2 billion.

#1. San Francisco Bay Area

The Bay Area narrowly topped Boston/Cambridge in patents (3,492) and loses out to the Red Sox region in NIH grants ($119.8 million). Jobs-wise it depends who you believe: California’s Economic Development Department lists 110,337 Bay Area “life sciences” jobs in the latest tally (Q1 2013), while a recently released report showed only 47,019. Split the difference, and call the region number one. But there’s no debating San Francisco and its suburbs were hands down number one in VC funding as the only region to top a billion dollars last year ($1.447 billion, to be exact), and also a clear number one in lab space, with a total 29.7 million square feet.

Following is GEN’s U.S. cluster ranking effort, starting with details of how the criteria were applied:

  1. NIH funding—Taken from the publicly available NIH RePORT database, for the current federal fiscal year, from its start on October 1, 2013, through February 24. While RePORT breaks down grant funding by state, it does not do so by city, but by Congressional district. That requires users to know in which districts a city or region falls, or learn it by studying the addresses within each district.
  2. Venture Capital (VC) funding—Taken from figures furnished by the publicly available MoneyTree Report, which divides the U.S. into 18 regions. Some regions listed—like Raleigh-Durham and Research Triangle Park, NC, and Chicagoland— account for half or more of MoneyTree’s Southeast and Midwest regions, respectively.
  3. Patents—Based on the number of patents containing the word “biotechnology” awarded since 1976 in namesake cities and suburbs where key companies are located. The “since 1976” parameter is one of only two parameters provided for Boolean searches via the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) Patent Full-text and Image Database, and covers roughly the entirety of biotech as an industry.
  4. Lab space—Based on total-size-of-market figures, in millions of square feet, furnished by various commercial real estate companies. Where there are discrepancies between companies, the largest number is used. Figures for some regions come from global real estate companies; others come from companies that have been among leaders in their specific regions.
  5. Jobs—Based on various sources, from industry groups, regional life sciences campuses, public and/or private economic development groups, and press articles when written by or directly attributed to an industry source. Because of differences in criteria such as inclusion of medical device or hospital patient-care positions, GEN found widespread discrepancies in job figures, including among several of the top-ranked regions. For this reason, job numbers are not ranked themselves, though they were factored in when deciding the ultimate position of a region.
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