Gov. Patrick Travels West to Plug Massachusetts’ Life Sciences Initiative At BIO

6/16/08Follow @xconomy

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick stole the show at last year’s gathering of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. In front of a crowd of 20,000 global biotechies meeting on home turf in Boston, he broke news that he planned to invest $1 billion over 10 years to strengthen the state’s position as a leading hub for life sciences companies. Tomorrow, he reports back at this year’s BIO conference, in San Diego. The headline: his life sciences plan has been officially signed into law.

Patrick will use a keynote speech Tuesday to discuss the plan in more detail. He’s sure to get an adoring reception from a pro-industry crowd, which loves to hear the words “cures” and “jobs” listed as payoffs in the same sentence. In fact, the organization is expected to recognize Patrick as “Governor of the Year.”

It took a while for the Patrick administration to agree on specifics of the life sciences bill with the Massachusetts Legislature, although the House ultimately voted 134-13 in favor of it and the Senate gave the final go-ahead in a 31-7 vote last week.

“This is a big deal for Massachusetts and for the country,” said Cyndi Roy, a spokeswoman for Patrick. “The Governor is absolutely excited about this. It’s been a long time coming.”

The final bill contains $500 million for infrastructure to support the industry, $250 million in science grants and small business assistance and another $250 million in tax credits, according to a summary on the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council’s website. The plan is designed to help the state remain strong versus the likes of California, which is sinking $3 billion into a stem cell research plan, and hungry competitors from overseas, such as Singapore and Ireland.

Besides Patrick’s appearance at BIO, the state hopes to impress conventioneers with a pavilion on the trade show floor. The goal will be to recruit new companies to the Bay State, and convince others to expand operations they already have, Roy said. The state’s economic development boosters say they can’t afford to skimp on marketing this year, or any year.

“Since it’s not in Boston, we won’t have the same kind of presence we had last year, but the state understands that to attract business to Massachusetts and show it is a place to grow your business, as with any marketing effort, there needs to be money for it,” said John Heffernan, vice president, policy and external affairs for the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. “This isn’t Massachusetts versus just any state. This is a global economy. We need to demonstrate we have the talented people.”

The Massachusetts plan has sparked curiosity from officials around the world, said Linda McGoldrick, worldwide director of the Drug Information Association, a non-profit group of 30,000 regulators, scientists and industry officials based outside Philadelphia. It’s likely that other regions will want to form collaborations with Massachusetts institutions now, rather than try to build from scratch what has been growing in Massachusetts for decades, she said.

“Boston has been in the sights of the U.K. and Western Europe for some time, and in Japan and across Asia, the appetite is growing for more life sciences investment,” McGoldrick says. “China is building facilities fast, and they have been shopping, if you will, for opportunities and resources.”

While it may take years for the payoffs to show up, it will be interesting to watch whether Patrick’s investment sparks further investments and collaborations with other governments and institutions from around the world. You can bet some of those discussions will be happening this week at BIO.

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