Pasadena Bio Collaborative Incubator: Leadership Through Experience

Pam Sornson, JD

Call it kismet: the partnership between Dr.’s Wendie Johnston and Robert (Bud) Bishop, while only three years old, combines two already exceptional skillsets into one dynamic, forward-leaning leadership team for one of the state’s most influential incubation entities, the Pasadena Bio Collaborative Incubator (PBC).

Dr. Johnston earned her Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D. degrees in Zoology, with a specialty in Cell Physiology. Dr. Bishop maximizes his Ph.D. in Biochemistry with the business acumen developed through his M.B.A. Individually, they each carry the depth and breadth of experience generated over decades-long careers in the life sciences and biotechnology industries. Together, they create a genuinely unique nexus: their talents merge to direct and drive the integration of the ‘business of science’ with the ‘science of business’ on behalf of LA’s thriving biosciences industrial sector. Combined with the impressive abilities of the PBC Team, this project has partnerships with the region’s schools, colleges, bioscience researchers, industries, and governments.


Dr. Wendie Johnston – Managing the Business of Science

A self-professed risk-taker, Dr. Johnston’s forays into new avenues of discovery has served her – and her students – well. After many years of teaching standardized science theories to her Natural Sciences students at Pasadena City College, in the mid-1990s, she embarked on what would become her seminal career journey. She spent her sabbatical year crossing the country, working as an entry-level lab technician at some of the nation’s most prestigious medical research centers, including the National Wildlife Forensics Lab in Ashland OR, Trevigen in Gaithersburg MD, Strategene in La Jolla CA, and the Huntington Medical Research Institutes in her home town of Pasadena.

She learned from that adventure that to find meaningful work, her students needed to understand not just the theories of science but also the teamwork of laboratory science: how to clean lab instruments, take accurate measurements, record and report data, and (especially critical) ensure quality control in every effort. Dr. Johnston rewrote her curricula to reflect her newfound insights and launched PCC’s Biological Technologies Program in 1997. It transformed her courses into career-focused training experiences. That year, she also launched the LA/Orange County Biotechnology Center (LAOCBC), where she continues as Director today.

By 1999, the high value of Dr. Johnston’s ‘business of science’ program had attracted notable attention. She joined an effort led by Dr. Jack Scott, former President of PCC, and then elected California Assemblyman (and, subsequently, California State Senator and 14th Chancellor of the California Community Colleges) to create a center of incubation and training in Pasadena.  The CSU system wanted to develop a center of bioresearch, and Dr. Scott had created the financial allocation that would facilitate that goal with fiscal control given to CSUPERB – the CSU Program for Education and Research Biotechnology. The founding partners in this project proposed that the co-location of shared lab space with dedicated work-based training would be a successful opportunity for both researchers and students.

From 1999 through 2004, Dr. Johnston and her like-minded colleagues gathered the data and resources they needed to launch the PBC in reality: non-profit status, tools and equipment, a strategy for its use, and space where it could live. Dr. Marc Baum, Director of the Oak Crest Institute of Science in Monrovia and an enthusiastic supporter of the project, indicated the availability of 500 square feet of space in his facility. The PBC officially opened its doors there in 2004, with Dr. Johnston as Lab Director, a position she still holds.

Dr. Johnston receives the first LA Biostar Award from Cal State LA

In the intervening 16 years, PBC has grown into the nationally recognized incubation model that it is today. Its location is open 24/7 and hosts more than 30 biotech startup companies, working on a wide range of projects to improve humanity’s health and welfare. Dr. Johnston’s experience, knowledge, and professional connections ensure that PBC tenants get the opportunities they need to take their work that one critical step further. That the lab also hosts extensive and immersive training programs for high school, community college, and college students is the icing on her already magnificent cake. She is, indeed, a Master of the business of science.


Dr. ‘Bud’ Bishop: Shepherding the Science of Business

No great biotech idea sees the light of day – let alone its potential market – without a lot of hard work going into its marketability as well as its effectiveness. And a biotech business is still a business, so getting its bio-product market-ready and marketable is as critical as monitoring the quality of the substances contained in its beakers and Petrie dishes. Enter PBC President, Dr. Robert ‘Bud’ Bishop.

Dr. Bishop’s selection as President of PBC is significant, as a quick review of his resume reveals that his long engagement with both the science and the business of the biotechnology sector is long, varied, and well respected. He began his career as a research associate at Hyland Laboratories in Glendale, which supported his PhD program. In 1976 he joined American Hospital Supply Corporation (AHSC), first as a program manager, then as a research director.  After completing his MBA, he rose to group vice-president for business development and finally to division president for American Medical Optics. When Allergan, Inc (AGN) purchased his division in 1986, he went with it.  He subsequently was promoted to division president for Allergan Pharmaceuticals and later president of the Allergan Therapeutics Group.

In 1992 Dr. Bishop left Allergan to become the CEO of AutoImmune, Inc., a start-up company focused on oral tolerance therapy.  In that role he led the effort to raise $120 million in an IPO, get two pharmaceuticals into Phase III studies and pivoted to make one of these into a nutritional supplement.  ‘Retired’ from that career now, he sits on two outside Boards of Directors and offers advice and counsel based on his diverse experience. In addition to a notable network of corporate and science industry contacts and colleagues, Dr. Bishop provides PBC with an unmatched skillset to inform its tenants, cohorts, and colleagues of the business opportunities and strategies available to increase their viability.

Dr. Bishop assumes the President’s role of PBC – 2017

In his role as President since 2017, Dr. Bishop brings deep insights from his ‘science of business’ career to the Lab as an exceptional complement to the ‘business of science’ offered by Dr. Johnston. His comprehensive understanding of entrepreneurship, corporate management, finance development and management, licensing and legalities, etc. – all the fundamentals that encompass today’s corporate entity – provides Lab tenants with the guidance they need to create the successful business that will embody their great idea. In short, Dr. Bishop teaches the ‘business of science’ to the PBC wetlab scientists who are brilliant in the Lab but not so much in the boardroom. With this information, biotech startup companies can bypass the fits and starts usually associated with any startup company and move into the market with a reasonable expectation of success.

Since he took office, Dr. Bishop has continued the PBC’s mission of growing educational and entrepreneurial opportunities for the LA region and its biotechnology sciences sector. He works closely with other wetlab resources in the area, maintaining for PBC the solid foundation and high respect developed by its previous President, the late  Bruce Blomstrom.


PBC’s Leaders of Science and Business Look Ahead

The partnership of these two ‘giants of science’ generates an ideal nexus to move the PBC to the next stage in its role as a leading member of LA’s burgeoning bioscience and technology sector. LA County continues to invest in biotech and bioscience startup incubators, and PBC, as one of the first wetlabs dedicated to research and collaboration, will continue its collaborative efforts with all its varied partners. Together, Johnston, Bishop, and the PBC Team will be working to further the intentions of the original initiative that drove the launch of enterprise: to provide the skilled, experienced workforce needed by tomorrow’s biotechnology industries so they can build and sustain the LA region’s economy and community.




AI in America: What’s Happening Here
AI Regulation: The Current State of International Affairs
Equity Ethics: A Moral Choice