Coast to Coast

2/23/09

Earlier this month I joined Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and members of his administration on a trade mission to the West Coast. The trade mission was an opportunity to showcase why Massachusetts is a great place to do business for companies in information technology, life sciences and other sectors. For us at the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC), the visit to California was an opportunity to initiate a dialogue with leading life sciences companies and venture capital firms. Our primary goal was to raise awareness among both companies and venture capital firms in the Bay area about Massachusetts’ $1 billion Life Sciences Initiative and what the initiative might do for them.

To make the best use of our time, we targeted a handful of adolescent as well as more established life sciences companies and several key venture capital firms with portfolio companies already in Massachusetts. In addition to meeting with individual business leaders, we also participated in a roundtable discussion hosted by Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotech companies, and Bay Bio, California’s life sciences trade organization representing 1,377 life sciences companies, mostly from the Bay area.

We received a tremendous response from the companies and venture capital firms we met with. A pleasant surprise was that they are all familiar with Massachusetts’ Life Sciences Initiative. They also are impressed with our strategy to leverage private investment through the targeted use of public dollars, and with our return on investment thus far. Just eight months have passed since the signing of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative and to date, the Center has committed $33 million in public investment in the life sciences, leveraged more than $327 million in additional non-profit and private investment, and helped to create hundreds of jobs across our state at a critical time.

Massachusetts’ approach to supporting the life sciences is different than what any other state has attempted. Our comprehensive approach addresses biotech, medical devices, diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and bioinformatics, and includes $250 million in tax incentives, $500 million in infrastructure support, and $250 million in a programmatic investment fund. We are using this investment fund to support early stage companies, support the growth of our more established industry leaders, fund new investigators, support recruitment of top-notch faculty at our world-class academic institutions, further strengthen our workforce, and promote technology transfer.

During our California visits we talked about the benefits of locating facilities in Massachusetts, and focusing investment dollars in our innovation pipeline. One program that caught people’s attention was our Corporate Consortium Program, established late last year with charter member Johnson & Johnson, through which corporate partners can co-invest with the center in promising new technologies with significant commercial potential. (More information on the Corporate Consortium Program can be found here.)

Most of the companies with whom we met were either engaged in business or interested in becoming engaged in Massachusetts. Many were educated here and frequently are in transit between the two poles of the life sciences industry. We were struck by the many life-long fans we met of the Boston Red Sox, Celtics and New England Patriots! Investors with whom we met consider the $1 billion Life Sciences Initiative a sign that Massachusetts is committed to offering a favorable climate for life sciences companies despite the current economy. They commend Governor Patrick for “staying the course.”

In contrast, we heard substantial concern about the business climate in California. Many feel that California’s economic future is on shaky ground because of a budget shortfall of over $40 billion. While all states have budget challenges to address, they see that Massachusetts remains focused on creating jobs, driving innovation, and supporting good science.

We returned from this trip optimistic about the opportunities for bi-coastal collaboration, with new relationships in place, and a number of follow-up meetings planned to move these conversations forward. This type of dialogue is essential to laying the foundation upon which Massachusetts will grow ourselves out of this touch economic climate.

Dr. Susan Windham Bannister, Ph.D., is the President and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. For more information visit www.masslifesciences.com. Follow @

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  • http://www.willettcorpcomm.com Michael Willett

    It looks as though the Life Sciences Initiative is off to quite a good start.

    Mike Willett