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Ask the Expert: Our Continuing Conversation with LA Life Sciences Expert, David Whelan

Last month, Milrose Consultants welcomed back David Whelan, Managing Director at Bespoke Strategy, to continue our conversation from a few years ago about the latest advancements in the life sciences landscape in Los Angeles, California. As part of our ongoing “Ask the Expert” series, we invite you to read on as Whelan takes a deeper dive into the latest insights and advancements of how Los Angeles is flourishing and setting trends within the booming realm of the life sciences industry. 

A “guy for all seasons” 

Whelan describes himself as “a business guy who eventually became a healthcare technology guy.” Over the last 25 years, he made the transition in spearheading the growth of a vibrant life sciences ecosystem to generate new opportunities for stakeholders ultimately. Since having last spoken with Whelan in 2021, he left his position as Chief Executive Officer of BioscienceLA to take on the role of Managing Director at Bespoke Strategy, where he focuses on fostering businesses and empowering entrepreneurs in the convergence of technology, health, and wellness domains.  

Growth in the market leads to increased rankings 

We last spoke with Whelan three years ago. Since then, Los Angeles/Orange County has made significant strides, moved up the ranks, and is now among the top 10 US Biopharma Clusters. According to the Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News (GEN), Los Angeles is giving the San Diego and San Francisco ecosystems a run for their money, as this region is narrowing the gap climbing from “number seven” to “number five,” which is an impressive increase, thanks to marked improvements among certain criteria. 

Los Angeles showed the most improvement in the following areas: 

  • Venture Capital: $4.63 billion since 2022. (On July 17, Los Angeles VC Firm Westlake Village BioPartners launched a third fund of $450 million and has established eight companies in the region to date.)  
  • Drug development 
  • Job growth: 134,739 
  • NIH funding: $2.25 billion 
  • Patents: 5,676 
  • Lab space: 11.4 million square feet 

“Growth is happening everywhere, and I would say that the growth of companies and innovation has been spurring additional venture investment and additional real estate investment across the entire region.” 


Whelan weighed in on this impressive climb saying: “I think it’s been a true community effort. All of the pieces have been present in Los Angeles for some time, but this growing connectivity has helped to propel growth across the entire ecosystem. Growth is happening everywhere, and I would say that the growth of companies and innovation has been spurring additional venture investment and additional real estate investment across the entire region.” 

Breaking this down even further, Whelan pointed out that the launch of the recent $450 million fund by Westlake Village BioPartners will help nurture early-stage next-generation biotech companies—not only within LA but beyond its borders as well. And where drug development is concerned, Whelan noted that in recent years: “LA has emerged as a hub for cell and gene therapy, initially led by Kite Pharma, and is now joined by numerous companies across the sizable region.” Looking beyond industry giants Amgen and Kite Pharma, emerging players like Agoura Hills-based A2 Biotherapeutics are thriving. In May 2023, A2 initiated its “Phase I EVEREST dose-escalation trial,” which marked a milestone in autologous cell therapy. Last year, A2 expanded its space by taking on 77,000 square feet for its new global headquarters.  

A diverse community 

Known for its vast size and diversity, Los Angeles (or LA) stands as one of the world’s most exciting destinations. This expansive region not only overflows with boundless resources, but consistently demonstrates an ability to unite in support of enhanced funding, space, and talent. It’s no wonder then that LA is experiencing such impressive growth in the life sciences sector! It’s important to note, however, that with LA’s growth and size comes a growing set of challenges. For example, it is important to ensure that sub-regions, which include Ventura County (home to Amgen)—and places like Thousand Oaks, Orange County, and other emerging clusters—can foster collaboration and maintain connections to remain integrated as a cohesive identity.  

Whelan commented by saying: “In this expansive region, abundant with people and resources, there’s a wealth of support from academic institutions and investors for growing companies. Our collective responsibility, which can transform into an opportunity and a strength, lies in the vast, diverse example of Los Angeles. With LA county encompassing 88 cities alongside unincorporated territories, our sprawling and highly diverse region presents unique potential.” Whelan went on to ask the following questions. “How do we find ways to help people stay local but to team up? How do we help those sub-clusters stay connected and collaborate across regions?” He answered by responding: “We need to continue our focus on innovation–training the next generation of workforce, hiring people, and creating facilities across the entire region in a way where we have almost limitless growth. It’s a challenge, but we have ways to overcome that challenge.” 

Innovation and lab space conversions 

Zoom Background - MRL SW 722x411The shortage of incubator space in LA has significantly improved over the years, thanks to emerging trends and improvements that have boosted the city’s life sciences ecosystem. “We have grown our incubator spaces significantly over the past several years,” said Whelan. “Several years ago, the county invested in a few new incubator spaces—most notably LA Bio Space at Cal State LA and Bio Labs at the Lundquist Institute. Those publicly supported spaces have been augmented by several private developers that are building more incubator and expansion space companies like Alexandria Real Estate and HATCHspaces—and those spaces are growing.” 

Since then, numerous expansion opportunities have emerged across various parts of LA. Whelan was excited to share how this year kicked off with the thrilling news about the transformation of a former shopping mall into the UCLA Research Park, which is supported by the state of California and local philanthropists. He explained how this 700,000-square-foot venture will house the California Institute for Immunology and Immunotherapy alongside a Quantum Research Institute. He continued by stating that California Governor Gavin Newsom wholeheartedly endorsed this development, stating: “The UCLA Research Park will cement California’s global economic, scientific, and technological dominance into the 22nd century and beyond.” 

1 UCLA Research Park Acquisition. Photo illustration: David Esquivel and Suzannah Mathur/UCLA

Los Angeles is not alone when it comes to encountering economic and investment hurdles. While new developments offer expansion opportunities, Whelan underscores the importance of creativity in space utilization for sustained growth in LA. He said this will ensure that companies can conserve their capital effectively. “People do not typically think of LA as a manufacturing hub,” he said. “There is a lot of manufacturing across the region, which means there are a lot of facilities that can easily be converted into lab space or biomanufacturing space. It’s exciting since this means that there is almost limitless potential for conversions closer to where people live, work, and study—fostering growth in emerging subclusters.” 

Navigating construction real estate requirements 

When it comes to the construction permit and zoning processes, Whelan noted that although the varying jurisdictional guidelines and regulations pose challenges (given LA’s vast composition of 88 cities), the county is making concerted efforts to enhance standards and streamline procedures. “While there are challenges, we have already started to solve some of them. What has been really exciting is essentially building some playbooks and establishing what I would call our ‘leveraging best practices.’ If we look to the Amgen area, Thousand Oaks, and then to Pasadena, you will see that Pasadena is modeling some of its policies after Thousand Oaks. Now, we have places like Culver City and other sub-clusters of LA that are now building a playbook based on best practices that are effective in other places.” The Grow LABio initiative – led by Biocom California, BioscienceLA, LAEDC, and Larta Institute – is providing a new level of connectivity and guidance to support this knowledge sharing in the region. 

"The life sciences and healthcare industries not only have an opportunity to take the lead in sustainability—but a responsibility as well."


There is even more exciting news on the horizon that will influence life sciences construction in LA: Effective this July, the CALGreen sustainable construction code will be in place. According to the California Department of Housing and Community Development: “CALGreen is California’s first green building code and first in the nation-state-mandated green building code…The purpose of CALGreen is to improve public health, safety, and general welfare through enhanced design and construction of buildings using concepts which reduce negative impacts and promote a positive environmental impact, and encourage sustainable construction practices.” CALGreen aims to enhance these five divisions of building construction: 

  • Planning and design 
  • Energy efficiency 
  • Water efficiency and conservation 
  • Material conservation and resource efficiency 
  • Environmental quality 

Whelan weighed in on the code by saying: “It’s a really exciting opportunity for the industry. First of all, the life sciences and healthcare industries not only have an opportunity to take the lead in sustainability—but a responsibility as well. We are collectively working on saving lives and making people healthier by improving their quality of life.” He went on to say: “There is a direct correlation between the work that we are doing in the lab, the work that is happening in hospitals, and the fact that people want to live and work in more sustainable environments. I think this creates an opportunity for the entire life sciences industry to rally behind this.” 

The amazing growth of the life sciences industry in Los Angeles is proof of how the city has the ability to turn perceived weaknesses into strengths—and then some. By embracing its vast size and diversity, the community is relentlessly working to foster unity across the region while cultivating micro-clusters to propel the growth of a genuine mega-hub.  

We hope you enjoyed learning about Whelan’s insights into the life sciences progress in Los Angeles. Through innovative developments—such as the UCLA Research Park and significant progress in sustainable construction codes, like CALGreen—one can see how Los Angeles is poised to not only compete on a national level but achieve success on a global scale as well.

Let Milrose help you bring your life sciences projects to life 

At Milrose Consultants, our powerful team of industry experts has the combined experience and knowledge in code, zoning, and permitting to handle all aspects of managing your life sciences projects—in any location throughout the country. Our expert project teams—Permit Advisors and Integrated Group—have extensive experience in navigating the code and zoning nuances of life sciences projects. When it comes to streamlining the permit approval process, Permit Advisors—our LA-based partner—is the “West Coast Master” at achieving success for your project. 

Contact us today to learn more about our comprehensive suite of real estate and AEC services and how we can help bring your next life sciences project to life.