Opinion

An Important Victory for the Area’s Biomedical Sector

At first blush, the numbers don’t seem too impressive, at least when compared to the $1.1 billion Bristol Meyers Squibb manufacturing facility recently announced for the Fort Devens site, and the hundreds of jobs it will generate.

This is a $4.9 million grant to study therapies for treating Type 1 diabetes, and the gain of possibly six to 10 jobs over the next few years for the company that won the federal contract, Worcester-based Biomedical Research Models Inc. But the news that broke early this month could have far greater implications for the company — and for the region and its still-fledgling biomedical research and manufacturing sector.

Taking the long-term and decidedly optimistic view, area business and economic development leaders believe the diabetes research grant could provide a significant boost to the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute in Springfield, where Biomedical Research Models is a tenant, and to broad efforts to grow this sector in Western Mass.

And we concur.

In the case of both the company and the region, it’s a chance (another chance) to show what they can do, and that’s all both parties can ask for in what has become a highly competitive contest for research dollars and jobs that involves many regions of the U.S. and, increasingly, foreign countries, especially China.

For years now, the Pioneer Valley, which got off to a slow start in the biomed race at the expense of Worcester, Cambridge, and other Massachusetts communities, has been struggling to merely get noticed with regard to that sector, despite its oft-cited cost-of-doing-business advantages and ample land on which to develop. The Biomedical Research Models contract offers a chance to get that vital task accomplished.

Meanwhile, the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, a joint venture involving Baystate Health and UMass Amherst, has been working over its first three years to spark growth of biomed jobs in the area, and has needed a highly visible opportunity to showcase its facilities and partnership-building capabilities. This contract should help with that mission as well.

Biomedical Research Models President Dennis Guberski, a native of Chicopee, is calling the federal grant a victory for small businesses trying to make it in an increasingly crowded field. His company has developed special lines of rodents used to study several types of diseases, including diabetes. The National Institutes of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, which has stepped up the fight against diabetes amid growing incidences of that disorder nationwide, has awarded Guberski’s company a contract to perform testing on several new compounds that could treat Type 1 diabetes.

The bid for the contract was submitted in association with the life sciences institute, and would not have been awarded without that alliance, said Guberski, noting both physical amenities at the center in the form of research facilities and the strong partnership between the university and the region’s largest health care provider.

Securing the federal grant should help officials at the institute in their ongoing awareness campaign to explain that the facility is not simply a mailing address for biomed companies, but a facilitating venture that blends science, health care, and economic development.

Taking the broad view, the federal contract could provide success stories on a number of levels. First, and most importantly, it could help advance the fight against a disease that is growing at alarming rates in this country. Second, it could help what must now be described as a regional company enhance its reputation within the life sciences research community. And it could, with time, give some real credibility to the Pioneer Valley’s efforts to promote itself as a center for biomedical research and manufacturing.

Thus, this is a small, but very important victory for the region and the life sciences institute, and something this area can definitely build upon as its seeks to add jobs and economic diversity.

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