ALL THE WORKERS in BioMarin Pharmaceutical’s Novato plant look alike. It’s not that the drugmaker’s more than 1,100-strong local workforce lacks diversity. The uniformity comes from the dress code
required to enter the clean rooms where the company’s
lifesaving drugs are made: dark blue pants and shirts with
tight cuffs, puffy caps covering hair, goggles and layers of
disposable booties over shoes.
That’s just to walk the halls.
To enter the rooms where the company cultures and
purifies the enzymes that make up its drugs, workers first
enter an air lock, where they don rubber gloves and unwrap
freshly laundered lab coats from plastic packaging. One
more layer of booties, a squirt of hand sanitizer, and finally
they can enter, their bundled-up feet making whisking
sounds across the floor with each step.
Inside the rooms, air whooshes through filters that
catch any bacteria, skin cells or hairs somehow shed by the
wrapped-up humans within, lest the impurities get into the
product. So clean is the air that the only smells in here are the
astringent odor of sanitizer and the occasional whiff of plastic
from the disposable tubing that moves the brown liquid that
will become the drug Vimizim through the plant.
“If you have allergies, this is a great place to be,” jokes Erik
Fouts, who oversees BioMarin’s three drug production plants
in Novato. Fouts has a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology;
the majority of his staff, who are busy cleaning out stainless-steel vessels in preparation for the next production run, have
bachelor’s degrees in life sciences or engineering.
This is the epicenter of Marin’s small biotech cluster,
which is growing thanks to the area’s educated workforce and
proximity to research facilities. Between Marin and Sonoma
counties, biotech firms bring in $2.7 billion in annual revenue,
Marin’s biotech industry not only
brings in billions of dollars per year, but
also creates high-quality jobs and life-
changing medicines and procedures.
BY CARRIE KIRBY • PHOTOS BY JOSEPH SCHELL