Lantos tours local biotech firm, hears concerns 

Officials with Monogram Biosciences say a number of legislative pressures are hindering their ability to recoup costs and attract the top talent they need to survive.

Monogram has spent the past seven years providing individualized drug combinations to HIV-positive patients, and hopes to expand its technology into treating various types of cancer, according to CEO William Young. Congressman Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, visited the lab Wednesday and heard Young's concerns, which include low levels of reimbursement for diagnostic firms, legislators' increasing zeal to regulate the biotech market and the elimination of relationships between private biotech companies and researchers working for the National Institutes of Health.

"This is a cutting-edge company," Lantos said in support of Monogram's mission. "I think there are enormous possibilities for this kind of individualized approach to medicine."

As representative for San Mateo County and parts of San Francisco, Lantos said he keeps a close eye on the medical and biotech world. He is an avid supporter of embryonic stem-cell research and, in 2002, co-authored a bill that raised $3.3 billion to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

During Wednesday's tour of Monogram's laboratories, Lantos asked what skills are required to land a job at a firm like Monogram.

Most clinicians have a state-issued clinical laboratory license or at least a bachelor of science degree, according to Linda Kiss, Director of Process Development. Because many clinicians are required to obtain a state license, it's difficult to attract top talent — a fact that may force some biotech firms to relocate to other parts of the country, according to Young.

With 150 biotech firms in South San Francisco alone, "the demand for scientifically trained people is an issue," Young said. Some work full-time at one firm and part-time at another to fill the gaps, he added.

Although Lantos joked about a brief stint in medical school — one that lasted until he saw his first cadaver — his granddaughter has been diagnosed with a rare lung disorder, piquing his interest in the medical world, he said.

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