Life Science Center Touts SouthCoast's Biotech Potential

By Grant Welker
Herald News Staff Reporter

Susan Windham-Bannister, President & CEO of Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, addresses those attending Friday's forum at the ATMC

The SouthCoast has the potential to attract a host of biotechnology companies, thanks to committed local officials, existing and planned infrastructure and available land, members of state life science groups said Friday.
Fall River and New Bedford are competing against communities across the state, nation and world to attract biotechnology companies — those in marine science, medical-device manufacturing, diagnostics and other fields — that often bring with them high-paying jobs and steady growth.
They are also fighting for funds under the state’s 10-year, $1 billion Life Sciences Act, which aims to keep those jobs in-state through capital grants, tax breaks and other methods of investment.
The SouthCoast has “the ingredients and the recipe” to become a hub for biotechnology, largely by offering a lower-cost alternative to Boston or Cambridge, where so much of the state’s biotech companies are based, said Robert Coughlin, the president and CEO or MassBio, a nonprofit organization for the industry.
The area is also close to reaching a critical mass of biotech companies, especially with the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center, commerce parks in Fall River and New Bedford, and the proposed SouthCoast BioPark that would be built near a new highway exit off Route 24 on the Fall River-Freetown line, said members of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the steward of the $1 billion life sciences program. “We want more companies to know this is a great place to put their facilities,” said Susan Windham-Bannister, the president and CEO of the Life Sciences Center.
Windham-Bannister and others from the center met on Friday with Coughlin and state Rep. Michael Rodrigues, the House chairman of the Biotechnology Caucus, to tour one of the area’s more successful biotech companies, Morgan Advanced Ceramics in New Bedford. Later, they participated in a forum on life sciences at the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center, where an incubator helps start-ups get off the ground.
The forum came in the midst of debate over the land proposed for the BioPark, which has also been eyed by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe for a resort-style casino. A bioprocessing facility by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, which would be an anchor tenant, has been earmarked for a $15 million state grant and $3 million in loans from the Greater Fall River Redevelopment Corp.
The BioPark would be very attractive to biotech companies because of its easy highway access and the potential for a commuter rail connection to Boston passing closely by, Coughlin said. MassBio, the biotech industry group, is especially looking outside the Route 128 corridor for new locations for its members, he said. The Life Sciences Act, which Gov. Deval Patrick approved in 2008, has so far contributed $187 million in funds for shovel-ready capital projects and grants to academic organizations, medical centers and life-science companies.
Local recipients are Morgan Advanced Ceramics, which received $570,000 in tax incentives to create 19 jobs; and the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center, and two start-ups that operate there, NuOrtho Surgical and Phosphorex, Inc., which each received $9,600 for two summer interns, most of which were UMass Dartmouth students.
NuOrtho has applied for Food and Drug Administration approval for a medical device it makes that aids in knee and other joint operations. CEO Jeffrey Morrill said that NuOrtho, which now has five full-time workers, will look to hire far more upon receiving FDA approval. Life Sciences Act funds are also earmarked for a life-sciences incubator in New Bedford, and to redevelop the former Dever School site in Taunton.
Illustrating the potential for biotech hubs outside the Boston area, 82 percent of Life Sciences Act funds have been given to projects outside the Route 128 corridor. Melissa Walsh, the chief operating officer for the Life Sciences Center, said she sees the SouthCoast as a likely landing spot for biotech companies scouting for the best locations. “I think we’re at the cusp of something really great around here.”
E-mail Grant Welker at
Copyright 2010 The Herald News. Some rights reserved
Posted May 14, 2010 @ 09:37 PM
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