Opinion

OPINION

Massachusetts Should Embrace Biotech

For decades Massachusetts has been fertile ground for the life sciences. Our unique concentration of extraordinary universities, teaching hospitals, research facilities, venture capital, and talent, spurred by a tradition of entrepreneurialism, provides a strong foundation for growth in the biotech industry. These strengths have brought thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in life science investments to Massachusetts.

For us, that success is more than a commercial matter. Each family can speak poignantly about a family member or friend with a disease or debilitating illness. You cannot be in the company of someone you love, powerless to help them, without appreciating the vital importance of stem cell research and other biomedical breakthroughs. In many ways, the health of this industry and the health of our society are closely linked.

But we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Competitor states and foreign nations are investing billions to attract our researchers, institutions, and industries. The University of Wisconsin-Madison outspends both Harvard and MIT in research and development. India and China, to say nothing of states such as California, are actively working to attract signature companies away from Massachusetts. At the same time, federal funding through the National Institutes of Health, of which Massachusetts typically receives a large share, is flat and likely to diminish. Politics, especially around stem cell research, impaired the innovation and calculated risk-taking that make breakthroughs possible. It is essential that the Commonwealth step up to maintain and extend our global leadership in the life sciences.

We are doing just that. Working with all sectors of the industry, we have developed the Massachusetts Life Science Initiative. This 10-year, $1 billion investment marks a new partnership between state government, industry, academic medical centers, and public and private higher education, and will accelerate statewide life sciences growth into high gear. We want to support this industry on the path from inspiration to commercialization, from ideas to cures.

That begins with support for new ideas and innovation. The rate of innovation in Massachusetts in recent years has been triple that of the national average and we have no intention of letting it slip. To bring the best and brightest to those facilities and others, we will offer life science grants to young, promising researchers who may not yet have attracted federal funding.

Playing to our world leadership in stem cell research, we will also create a Massachusetts Stem Cell Bank to be housed at UMass-Amherst. Once completed, the bank will hold the largest collection of stem cell lines in the world and make our rapidly growing catalog widely available to researchers. Already, a group of competitive institutions have agreed to contribute to the Stem Cell Bank, underscoring the spirit of collaboration so distinctive about our biotech supercluster.

The state will also develop innovation centers to provide industry and the academic community access to cutting-edge facilities and technology. These centers will serve as regional economic engines throughout the Commonwealth, as new companies and jobs open up in the cities and towns around them.

Finally, when an idea is ready to become reality, we will help guide it to the marketplace. Breakthroughs are often lost in investment gaps typical of the movement from early academic research to industry development. We will designate grants to translate discoveries into applications and support partnerships to move new ideas along. We will also work to help life science projects in Massachusetts win federal assistance. Job growth here in the industry is fueled, in part, by federal support, and our companies lead the nation in these awards per capita. Every new job created in the life sciences results in two additional jobs in support services for suppliers, vendors, and construction. What’s good for the life sciences and biotech is good for Massachusetts.-

Deval L. Patrick is governor of Massa-chusetts. Therese Murray is president of the Massachusetts Senate. This article first appeared in the Boston Globe.

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