Support the news

BIO Reaction

Governor Deval Patrick yesterday unveiled details of his proposed one billion dollar boost for the Massachusetts life sciences sector.

If approved, the money would go to basic science, to industry, and to workforce training. WBUR's Health and Science reporter Allan Coukell canvasses reaction to the proposal.TEXT OF STORY

ALLAN COUKELL: The Governor made his announcement yesterday at the BIO 2007 conference. Speaking in the Massachusetts pavilion, in middle of the conference's vast exhibition floor, he said his plan would be...

GOVERNOR PATRICK: A ten year, one billion dollar investment that will create new partnerships between state government, industry, academic medical centers, public and private higher education, and accelerate our life sciences growth in to high gear.

COUKELL: The governor said most of that money would be new spending — from bonds, from current tax dollars and through tax breaks for life science businesses. The plan also calls for a quarter of a billion dollars in private sector contributions.

The money would fund basic science, train new talent, assist fledgling businesses, keep established businesses and attract new ones.

GOV. PATRICK: My administration will compete for every single job available. Every single one.

COUKELL: Public colleges and universities would receive much of the funding. Specific earmarks include funding for U Mass Medical school in Worcester, for a research program led by Nobel laureate Craig Mello and for a new stem cell bank at UMass.

Jack Wilson is the school's president.

JACK WILSON: We're looking at a stem cell proposal that is about a 66 million dollar proposal at this time, an RNAi proposal that is 38 to 40 million dollars and then you see the other pieces in there. And then you see the other pieces but there's a lot of work to be done.

COUKELL: The stem cell bank would be a shared resource for Massachusetts scientists. Institutions, including Harvard, Boston University and several major teaching hospitals, have pledged to contribute their current and future stem cells lines to the repository.

Top state lawmakers and business executives were quick to praise the governor's leadership yesterday. Senate President Therese Murray said next week's budget would contain a measure to fund the governor's proposal.

Only a small portion of this money would go to stem cell research, but Murray compared this initiative with those in other states.

SENATE PRESIDENT MURRAY: California, Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are all aggressively investing in this research. California leads our competitors with three billion dollars in support.

COUKELL: The California plan was co-written by Gerald McDougall, of the accounting and consulting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers. I caught up with McDougall on the busy convention floor.

COUKELL: How would you compare this billion to California's three billion?

GERALD MCDOUGALL: Well, California is spreading it out over multiple cities: San Francisco, San Diego, LA, Silicon Valley. The Commonwealth is a much smaller state, so I think the investment is very comparable.

COUKELL: Another person who knows both Massachusetts and California is George Scangos, president and chief executive of Exelixis, a billion dollar biotech company that started in Cambridge and later moved to San Francisco.

Scangos says, if spent well, this money can change the landscape.

GEORGE SCANGOS: You know, for certain academic endeavors — stem cells — for small biotech companies looking for capital, even mid-sized companies, it can make a difference. You know, a billion dollars is a lot of money.

COUKELL: Scangos cites a number of issues that delayed implementation of the California plan. One was a disagreement over whether the state would retain a financial stake in research it funds.

Governor Patrick says he'd like to see the state reap revenue beside just the economic group he's shooting for. Scangos warms that if the state gets too greedy, it will defeat the purpose.

SCANGOS: Frankly, from an industry perspective, if the desires of the state from an intellectual property perspective are too onerous, people will turn down the money.

COUKELL: At the BIO conference yesterday, no one was looking to turn down the money. More than one business leader mentioned that Massachusetts was once, briefly, the center of the information technology industry.... before it moved to California. Governor Patrick and other state officials pledge that it won't happen again.

For WBUR, I'm Allan Coukell.

This program aired on May 9, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news