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Local Woman to Lead State Biotech Effort

Science: Ventura biologist will direct six-region community college program. County industry may benefit.


A Ventura biologist has been selected to head a statewide biotechnology training and jobs program, a potential boost to Ventura County's growing biotech industry.

As statewide director of the California community college system's biotechnology economic development program, Mary Pat Huxley will coordinate six regional biotech centers throughout the state.

Huxley said she hopes to increase the program's state funding--it now receives $1.07 million annually from Sacramento--and to draw more biotech companies into partnerships with the state's community colleges.

Huxley, who is also trained as a geneticist, will manage her new duties from the Ventura College office where she has run the Central Coast Biotechnology Center, the local component of the statewide program, since 1998.

Huxley also will retain her position as executive director of VCBio, a countywide networking group for biotech and support companies, including Amgen Inc., Baxter International's Hyland Immuno division and vegetable seed manufacturer Seminis Inc.

Tim Osslund, an Amgen researcher who serves as president of VCBio, said Huxley's new position should increase the county's name recognition in the field. "There's clearly going to be a direct relationship between her state appointment and the exposure to Ventura County," he said.

"She'll be running this . . . and more and more businesses might ask, 'What does Ventura County have?' "

A Times analysis earlier this year found 27 biotech and industry support companies operating in the county, with 10 of those locating here in the past three years. VCBio's priorities include expanding and retaining a local biotech work force and ensuring companies have access to evolving employee training.

Ventura College offers plant and medical biotechnology training programs. Moorpark College's biotech program emphasizes medical biotech manufacturing skills. More than 100 students have completed these local programs.

Huxley's appointment gives Ventura College "a statewide perspective and makes them a real leader in the biotech program nationwide," said Sandy Kirschenmann, director of the community college system's overall economic development initiatives.

Huxley said the community college system has built a solid training framework since creating its biotech initiative four years ago. She wants to increase the program's visibility, bringing more students and more private companies into the fold.

"More than a third of all biotech companies in the United States are in California, and more than half of the biotech employment in the United States is in California," she said. "The industry is maturing and the companies are moving from research and development into manufacturing. This opens up jobs in arenas that don't require PhDs. This provides a tremendous opportunity for community colleges to train in that area."

Jeffery O'Neal, director of the North Valley and Mountain Biotechnology Center at American River College in Sacramento, said Huxley has "a good overview of what the issues are" statewide.

Huxley holds a biology degree from UC San Diego and a master's degree in genetics from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

She spent 10 years as a research scientist for the Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory at Port Hueneme, working on bioremediation on fuel spills and managing a laboratory. She also taught several biology courses at Ventura College and has served as an environmental consultant.

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