The Birth of Biotech

How one company helped seed San Diego's industry.

Kelly Rae Chi
Dec 1, 2007
<figcaption>Ivor Royston Credit: Courtesy of Forward Ventures</figcaption>
Ivor Royston Credit: Courtesy of Forward Ventures

In 1978, Ivor Royston, then a young assistant professor studying immunology at University of California, San Diego, drove four investors to the airport. He had given them a tour of his lab, shown them how he made monoclonal antibodies, and told them he believed these new tools could be the future of disease diagnosis.

When the investors asked him how much it would cost for him and his technician, Howard Birndorf (now CEO of Nanogen) to start a small, independent laboratory and make antibodies for commercially interesting purposes such as hepatitis testing, Royston had no idea. He asked for $200,000.

"[One of the investors] said, 'I don't believe you can do that with $200,000, so I'm going to give you $300,000.' So we said fine," Royston recalls. "And that was more money than we'd ever seen before....