Skip to Content

Research Institutions

"I had no doubt in my mind that Scripps is one of the premier research institutions in the world. It is a crown jewel of American science, and if we care about science in America, we must care about the research institutions where some of the best science is done.”

Gerald Chan, Chairman and CEO, Morningside Group
May 19, 2017

The San Diego region is recognized globally as a center of scientific breakthroughs and discoveries. The region’s innovative research and development (R&D) activities have produced cures for diseases, algorithms in billions of cell phones worldwide, and state-of-the-art medical devices for treatment and care. At the heart of innovation lie San Diego’s research institutions—the independent and university research institutes that anchor the region’s R&D ecosystem. Research institutions are the genesis of discoveries that benefit the global scientific and technology communities. They also generate massive impacts on the economy as a whole. Furthermore, these institutions are centers for collaboration with private industry. They are the source of new commercializable technologies and companies that spin out and generate significant economic impacts.

See EDC's economic impact study on the region's research institutions for more information.


Industry Highlights

  • The robust cluster of scientific research and development is one of the largest and most significant economic contributors to the region, generating $14.4 billion in gross regional product.
  • Research institutions account for a significant portion of these impacts on the region’s economy, representing $4.6 billion in total economic impact on the region every year—four times the annual impact of the San Diego Convention Center, 34 times the impact of Comic-Con, and 33 times the impact of the U.S. Open Golf Championship.
  • Commercial dependence on institution research accounts for a significant portion of the scientific R&D impacts. In 2014, 446 new science and technology startups accounted for 1,860 new jobs created in San Diego. Many of these new companies used technologies or discoveries from one of the region’s research institutes or universities.
  • Research institutes and universities in the San Diego region received a total $761 million of NIH funding for R&D in 2014, ranking 8th among all metropolitan areas.
  • Research institutions receive approximately $1.8 billion in federal funding and philanthropy per year, allowing some variation year-to-year in major awards and donations.
  • San Diego is home to 111 living National Academy of Sciences members, more than 2,600 post-doctoral fellows at research institutions, and 5,600 full-time graduate students in science, engineering, and health.
  • San Diego ranks first in the nation in patent intensity (patents per thousand employees). In 2013, San Diego was granted 3.6 patents per thousand employees, more than other high-tech regions, such as Boston, Austin, Seattle and New York.
  • The amount of lab space exceeds the total square footage of shopping malls, which has profound implications for construction jobs, maintenance jobs, and an array of service jobs that tend to aggregate around industrial and science park.

Call to Action

Build supporting coalitions

  • Form a coalition with key national R&D centers to collectively advocate for research support.
  • Organize quarterly coordinated visits to D.C. with key local leaders, companies, and institutions.
  • Establish strategic funding partnerships with universities, philanthropists, foundations, and for-profit enterprises around the world.

Drive economic development opportunities

  • Coordinate with EDC’s Go Global Initiative to attract more foreign investment and partnerships.
  • Organize quarterly open-invitation briefings with public officials.
  • Release an annual economic impact report to continually promote messaging.

Address workforce needs

  • Redouble efforts on STEM training by developing short-term, technical training programs.
  • Focus efforts on important middle-skill positions, such as lab technicians and assistants.
  • Support and develop more interactive laboratories, such as The Salk Mobile Science Lab, JCVI’s “Discover Genomics!” program, and Qualcomm’s Thinkabit lab to better engage K-12 students in STEM.

Major Independent Research Institutes

The independent research institutes in San Diego owe their existence to the farsightedness of civic leaders. The Scripps Research Institute’s earliest roots go back to its 1924 founding by San Diego philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps as a small clinic focused on diabetes. Today, it is the largest independent research institute in the country. In the 1960s, the City of San Diego donated 27 acres to Jonas Salk to build the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and zoned the spectacular Torrey Pines Mesa for the development of science and technology. UC San Diego and the major independent institutes which now include Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute along with numerous others, form a dense concentration of research and development that has contributed to the creation of hundreds of companies that form the life science and technology sectors in San Diego. More than 26,000 workers now congregate around the Torrey Pines Mesa, which has become a scientific mecca for the world’s best researchers.

The Scripps Research Institute

  • Focus on molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, neurosciences, immunology, cardiovascular disease, virology and synthetic vaccine development
  • More than 3,000 employees including 285 faculty
  • Home to Kellogg School of Science and Technology for graduate studies
  • Highest NIH grant funding among all independent research institutes

Salk Institute for Biological Studies

  • Focus on AIDS, Alzheimer’s, aging, autism, birth defects, cancer, diabetes, gene therapy, plant biology and vision
  • Facility designed by world-renowned architect Louis Kahn recognized by the American Institute of Architects as one of the nation’s top ten buildings of the 20th century
  • 59 faculty including five Nobel laureates and 16 members of the National Academy of Sciences
  • Annual economic impact of $199 million on the San Diego community

Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute

  • Focus on cancer, neuroscience, infectious and inflammatory diseases, diabetes and obesity, and children’s health
  • Ranks third in the nation among independent research organizations in NIH grant funding
  • More than 1,200 employees including 89 faculty
  • Currently ranks third worldwide among all research organizations in citations per publication in the fields of biology and biochemistry

West Health Institute

  • Focus on creating new, cost-effective ways to deliver high-quality healthcare to all Americans
  • Wholly funded by philanthropists Gary and Mary West as part of West Health
  • Developed Sense4Baby, a maternal monitor technology featured at Apple's Event in September 2015

J. Craig Venter Institute

  • Focus on human genomic medicine, infectious disease, plant, microbial and environmental genomics, synthetic biology and biological energy, bioinformatics, and software engineering
  • Employs more than 250 scientists and staff in more than 250,000 square feet of laboratory space
  • Sequenced a variety of important infectious disease agents such as the mosquito species, Aedes aegypti
  • Awarded five-year, $25 Million NIH grant to establish a genome center for infectious diseases