What Is Vimizim?
Developing a life science economy around the Buck
Institute is good for Marin — and humanity. BY JIM WOOD
If the orphan drug side of
the biotech industry succeeds
in Marin, it will mean great
things for the vitality of our
10-year-old public company in Hamilton
Landing with a drug designed for sufferers of a
rare form of Huntington’s disease, and Mount
Tam Biotechnologies, a small firm hoping to
bring to market medical compounds to treat
lupus. Mount Tam Biotechnologies is working
with the Buck Institute for Research on Aging,
in that familiar I. M. Pei–designed building
sitting on the hillside just north of Novato.
Created in the late 1980s from the trust of a
wealthy Ross couple, Leonard and Beryl Buck,
the Buck Institute is an independent research
facility whose mission is “to increase the
healthy years of life.” Within its walls dozens
of world-class scientists work in a collabora-
tive environment to understand how getting
older contributes to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s
and heart diseases, as well as cancer, stroke,
diabetes and glaucoma.
“The Buck Institute is absolutely an asset to
the growth of life science commerce in Marin,”
says Robert Eyler, Sonoma State University
professor of economics and chief economist
for the Marin Economic Forum. “Short of a
leading research university, there’s nothing
like it between the Golden Gate Bridge and the
University of Oregon in Eugene.”
The Marin Economic Forum, whose
founding members include Autodesk, Bank of
America, Marin General Hospital and Whole
Foods, is another group aiming to vitalize
the area’s life science economy. So too is the
North Bay Life Science Alliance, a consor-
tium in Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano
counties in which companies like Genentech,
Medtronic and Novartis — along with BioMarin,
Ultragenyx and Raptor Pharmaceuticals —
seek to create corporate synergy and attract
more like-minded corporations to the region.
According to Eyler, the alliance currently
involves 90 globally involved corporations that
employ more than 10,000 individuals that con-
tribute $4.9 billion to the local region’s economy.
If a vibrant life science economy can continue to grow and thrive here, with the Buck
Institute as its nucleus, it will be incredibly
good for Marin — and humanity. That’s my
point of view. What’s yours?
INFUSIONS OF VIMIZIM treat people with low levels of the N-acetylgalactosamine- 6 sulfatase enzyme that breaks down the glycosaminoglycans that cause a form of mucopolysacclaridosis known as
Morquio A. Got that?
In simpler terms, Vimizim means that
Annabelle, age 7, will have the energy and
stamina to lead a mostly normal life. In
the U. S., only about 300 people suffer from
Morquio A, and they require weekly infusions
of Vimizim that can cost $400,000 a year. To
learn more about Annabelle, Google BioMarin;
her photo will appear and you’ll be inspired.
Meanwhile, it might be worthwhile to
understand an emerging commerce in Marin
known as “orphan drugs.” These drugs bear
this nickname because they treat diseases
afflicting no more than 250,000 people world-
wide. If the orphan drug side of the biotech
industry succeeds in Marin, it will mean great
things for the vitality of our county’s economy.
BioMarin Pharmaceutical, the maker of
Vimizim, was founded 20 years ago in Novato
and is now headquartered in those downtown
San Rafael high-rises you see from the freeway.
With 2,200 employees in the U. S. and Europe
(1,600 in Marin), the publically traded company
gets almost $900 million in annual revenue,
though it has yet to turn a profit. “BioMarin’s
focus is on patients, mostly children, suffering
from rare genetic diseases,” says spokesperson
Debra Charlesworth. “Vimizim is one of our five
products, with several more in the pipeline.”
Another Marin biotech firm is Ultragenyx
Pharmaceutical, founded in Novato in 2010.
It is also publicly traded, has more than 275
employees and specializes in treatments for rare
and debilitating genetic diseases. According to
reports, the company is close to bringing sev-
eral products to market. Recently, Ultragenyx
signed a $65 million agreement with Takeda
Pharmaceutical Company Limited of Japan to
license and co-develop rare disease drugs.
Other Marin companies developing orphan
drugs include Raptor Pharmaceuticals, a
The vie ws and opinions expressed in this article are
those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the
policy or position of Marin Magazine and its staff.