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COMMENTARY
A Site Selection Web Exclusive, October 2011
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Challenges Are Opportunities

by ROBERT K. COUGHLIN
COMMENTARY
Robert K. Coughlin is president & CEO of MassBio.
F

rom very humble beginnings, the biotechnology industry in Massachusetts has grown to be one of the most significant regional clusters of any industry in the world. But we're not done yet — we at MassBio join our colleagues in industry, government and academia in a quest to continue our stellar growth. How can it be done? With a renewed focus on being the best place in the world for innovation, research and development.

Biotechnology began to take hold in Massachusetts in the late 1970s, benefitting from the numerous research universities and hospitals in the greater Boston area. The industry began in old converted industrial spaces in Boston and Cambridge, but today, Massachusetts has over 500 biotech and pharma companies, 18 million sq. ft. (1.6 million sq. m.) of commercial laboratory space and close to 50,000 workers in the field.

More than 27,000 of those workers are in biotechnology research and development, the highest number of employees so classified in any state. Massachusetts is at the center of the region with the greatest biologics manufacturing capacity in the world, with 300,000 liters of cell culture manufacturing capacity. Massachusetts–headquartered drug development companies have 900 investigational drugs in the development pipeline and 140 medicines have been created in Massachusetts that now serve a patient population of 160 million in the U.S. alone. Life sciences products account for 28 percent of all Massachusetts exports, some $7.5 billion in value.

For many years, biotechnology was the kid brother to the larger, traditional medical technology industries. During those years, the industry in Massachusetts grew steadily — not just in terms of employment and facilities, but in expertise. The expertise was not only in the science of biotechnology, but also in the business of biotechnology. In the 1980s and 1990s, collaboration between research universities, hospitals, and the fledging biotech industry grew. Savvy investors saw the promise of biotechnology and new entrepreneurs learned how to take technologies off the shelves of university technology transfer offices into the workplace of the private sector as new companies.

So, when the pharmaceutical and medical device industries began to look to biotechnology to help deliver new technologies to build their medicine pipelines, Massachusetts became an obvious destination for investments. Indeed, in the past decade the biopharma industry grew in employment by 52.5 percent in Massachusetts.

Our challenge going forward is also our great opportunity. For the Massachusetts biopharma industry to compete globally, it must lead. As a destination for companies, Massachusetts doesn't always win based on cost. It wins new opportunities because it has incredibly talented people and a broad and deep ecosystem that supports moving cutting-edge science forward. Quite simply, we need to be the best at what we do — today and tomorrow.

How do we be the best? It begins by thinking of the patient first. Our industry is focused on solving unmet medical needs. We can be the best by not being satisfied with the paradigm that it takes 10 years and $1 billion to bring a drug to market. To discover and develop cures, we need to have a platform that propels innovation forward faster.

MassBio today includes Innovation Services among its core programs. Through these programs, researchers can connect to seasoned mentors who help guide new company creation; new technologies are directed from tech transfer offices to buyers who can advance the science to the next level, and emerging entrepreneurs can receive training from successful, seasoned serial entrepreneurs.

At the work force level, the MassBioEd Foundation, through its BioTeach program, trains high school science teachers in a bioscience curriculum that they bring back to their classrooms. MassBioEd's Job Shadow program introduces hundreds of students annually to the biopharma workplace. The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center runs a program that funds college interns at life sciences companies throughout the state. The Massachusetts Life Sciences Education Consortium has worked with the state's community colleges to develop bioscience core competencies to help fill technician-level positions in the industry.

Several years ago, MassBio initiated its BioReady Communities Campaign. Today, there are 68 BioReady-rated communities with buildings and land sites available for development as laboratory or biopharma manufacturing facilities. Many of these sites are Platinum rated, meaning they are either existing laboratory and manufacturing spaces in move-in condition or land sites that are pre-permitted for the industry, requiring only building permits to proceed with new construction. Through the BioReady campaign, we can identify buildings and land sites across the state, to meet a range of price points.

The industry has not been alone. Through the $1-billion Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative, enacted in 2008, Massachusetts state government is helping to accelerate growth in the sector with funding for critical infrastructure projects, financing for early stage companies, and tax-based incentives for companies of all sizes.

Collaboration is critical to our success. No place in the world has the same "collision factor" that Massachusetts has. In Kendall Square in Cambridge at lunch, MIT professors and venture capitalists bump into researchers from companies like Sanofi, Biogen Idec, Microsoft, Novartis and Google. There are 70 biotechnology companies within a 20-minute walk. Beyond this research core, the distances between laboratories and manufacturing plants are measured in minutes, not in hours or days. Worcester, the dynamic "second center" of the industry in Massachusetts, is just an hour from Boston and Cambridge. Being able to maximize these "collisions" is important for any innovative cluster and a fundamental factor in helping us to lead in this industry. Much of our focus as an industry association is to regularly promote activities by which the talented people in our cluster can continue to collaborate.

The Milken Institute's Technology and Science Index ranks Massachusetts first in the nation. It is a place we intend to remain. But with growing global competition in what has been a distinctly American industry, we will not rest on our laurels. In the global marketplace, we must compete by leading the way. The Massachusetts model is one based on collaboration between industry, non-profit research, and government in areas including work-force development, technology transfer, business financing, infrastructure and site assembly. There are people waiting for cures. There is no time to lose.


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