science policy


Biotech Superstar Seeks to Foster Collaboration in the SF Bay Area

Guest: Una Ryan, PhD, Chair, Bay Area BioEconomy Initiative

Bio and Contact Info

Chapters: (Advance the marker)

1:43 Returning to childhood mission

9:14 Improving the image of big pharma

10:54 Goals of Bay Area BioEconomy Initiative

21:50 Investing in women led companies

24:59 You need at least two women on the board

27:14 Honored by the Queen of England

When we first saw Una Ryan on an investor panel at last year's SynBioBeta, she immediately won us over with her unpretentious, even childlike simplicity combined with a powerful ease developed from years of experience. This life science superstar has done it all, from being researcher chipping away at tenure, to founding companies, to sitting on many organizational boards, including chair of MassBio for a decade.

In today's interview Una (pronounced Yu-na) talks about returning to the dream of her five year old self. As a girl in London she was inspired to a kind of "missionary zeal" by a television program about a man with leprosy. At that moment she decided that she wanted to cure the world of "these dread diseases."

After moving to San Francisco a year ago, Una has led the formation of the Bay Area BioEconomy Initiative (BAB), a non-profit with the aim of bringing together the life science crowd. The goal of BAB is now threefold: first, to create a single IRB that various institutions can adopt to speed up the process of clinical trials; second, to bring researchers and entrepreneurs together with experienced industry leaders; and third to focus on what happens to the startup after graduation from the incubator.

"I'm not a big believer in the fish model where you throw a lot of eggs in the sea and one or two survive," she says, likening the care of startups to natural reproduction. "I like the mammal model where you nurture people to adulthood."

As an investor, Una is keen on synthetic biology. The challenge with this sector is to come up with products that are useful to people, she says.

"I think the public doesn't want to hear about all the clever technology. They want to know what's useful, friendly, and cheap that they can use."

The conversation can go anywhere with Una, as she draws on such breadth of experience. We keep this interview under thirty minutes, but look forward to having her back to the program for more.

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