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Susan Windham-Bannister on the State of the State’s $1B Life Sciences Initiative, Part II

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the Patrick reelection effort. Like other current heads of state agencies (quasi or not), Windham-Bannister’s job security would weaken if Baker beats Patrick in November. Don’t forget that the previous head of the center, a Mitt Romney appointee named Aaron D’Elia, was ousted from his job not too long after Patrick was sworn in as governor in January 2007.

As I noted in yesterday’s Part I of my interview with Windham-Bannister, the state’s $1 billion life sciences initiative consists of three main funding buckets: half a billion dollars for capital projects, $250 million in tax incentives, and $250 million for its investment fund. The latter bucket, the investment fund, requires approval in the annual state budget—putting it in the hands of the powers that be on Beacon Hill. Patrick and the state legislature, facing major budget deficits, have knocked down the proposed $25 million annual investment fund to $15 million and $10 million in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Here are excerpts from my conversation with Windham-Bannister on the political aspects of the $1 billion initiative:

Xconomy: What has the life sciences community lost with the passing of Ted Kennedy, who was a champion for biomedical research funding for decades?

Susan Windham-Bannister: Obviously, Senator Kennedy had made healthcare, broadly, his focal point for most of his career. When I wrote my dissertation, I did an analysis of his Health Security Act, so this goes way, way back. So, yes, we’ve obviously lost a champion. But I think that other members of our delegation understand the importance of life sciences, and the significance of life sciences in Massachusetts, and are stepping in very quickly. At a recent ribbon cutting at the Marine Biological Laboratory, we had the ranking U.S. Senator [John Kerry] as well as Congressman Bill Delahunt. And yes, Delahunt is retiring. I think this shows the level of support and interest. Obviously, I don’t think we can replace overnight the reach and the influence that Senator Kennedy had. But I think that in the hands of Senator Kerry, as the senior member of the Massachusetts delegation, we’re in good hands.

I also think it will be very hard to disrupt what have become very strong relationships and success stories between the funding agencies in Washington and [researchers] in Massachusetts. Massachusetts receives more NIH dollars per capita than any other state, and the second in aggregate dollars to California, which is a much larger state. So a big part of our job, in addition to the support and advocacy our legislative delegation will provide, is for us to continue to make all the research institutes in Massachusetts capable of continuing to be competitive. So I think advocacy is important, but the research institutions here also stand on their merit as well.

X: What impact has Scott Brown had on the life sciences community during his short time thus far in the U.S. Senate?

SW-B: I’m not … Next Page »

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