Mass. woos life sciences companies

By Robert Weisman
WASHINGTON – Massachusetts officials came courting biotechnology business yesterday, descending on the nation’s capital to promote an industry convention scheduled for Boston next year, trumpet new life sciences collaborations with three countries, and invite thousands of executives gathered here to set up shop in the Bay State.
“The life sciences community in Massachusetts is on fire,” Governor Deval Patrick told a luncheon crowd at the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s annual gathering. Patrick said his 10-year, $1 billion life sciences initiative, begun in 2008, so far has invested $200 million in public money, generated more than $700 million in private financing, and helped create thousands of jobs.
Earlier in the day, Patrick shared a podium with US Senator John F. Kerry, state Senate President Therese Murray, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and other officials at a breakfast for 125 business leaders and visitors from several countries at a Legal Sea Foods restaurant in Washington’s Chinatown. Murray lauded Legal Sea Foods owner Roger Berkowitz, who flew down to host the event, for his scrambled eggs buffet. ÒWe thought we were having fish for breakfast,” she said.
Kerry said the life sciences industry, a top focus of Massachusetts’ economic development efforts, could create the type of high-paying jobs that have eluded other parts of the state’s economy. This is one of the great promising sec tors for job growth,” he said.
Stefan Winkler, a life sciences industry adviser for the British Embassy, said he brought a representative from a British company to the breakfast to meet with Patrick and other Massachusetts officials.
For biomedical, Massachusetts is probably the top place, Winkler said. The other place is California. Massachusetts has the big advantage [in] that it’s six hours closer.
Patrick, Menino, and Murray kicked off two days of activities at the BIO convention’s 2,400-square-foot Massachusetts Pavilion on Tuesday at a reception for several hundred state business people and out-of-state guests who devoured 200 pounds of scallops donated by New Bedford’s American Pride Seafoods and drank Samuel Adams beer.
About 15 percent of the 15,000 people registered for the convention hail from Massachusetts, making up one of the largest state contingents. But Menino promised next year’s convention in Boston will be much bigger, surpassing the record 23,000 people who attended BIO in 2007, the last time it was held in Boston. City officials are viewing it as a chance to showcase the new South Boston innovation district – soon to be anchored by drug maker Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. – and attract even more companies.
“Come to Boston,” Menino bellowed at the reception. “We’ll show you a good time, but we’ll also show you a business opportunity you never thought you had.”
City and state officials here in Washington have been highlighting the life sciences ecosystem” in Massachusetts, which includes research universities, teaching hospitals, venture capital firms, and tens of thousands of science and engineering graduates. The state’s life sciences research projects, many funded by the National Institutes of Health, have been a draw for foreign drug companies, including Novartis AG of Switzerland and Sanofi SA of France.
Overseas companies have increasingly become a focus of the state’s efforts to recruit life sciences business. Along those lines, officials disclosed fresh agreements yesterday with government and academic partners in Israel, Northern Ireland, and Finland, toting the flags of all three countries to the Massachusetts Pavilion for the announcements.
Patrick joined with Avi Hasson, the chief scientist of Israel, to disclose a formal alliance, called the Massachusetts-Israel Innovation Partnership, that will initiate several research collaborations between Massachusetts and Israeli companies. They said the deal grew out of a trade mission the governor led to Israel and Britain in March.
Under the agreement, three participating state agencies – the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center will commit nearly $1 million to projects with an Israeli company that has yet to be chosen. Israel will provide up to $1 million in matching funds.
Massachusetts is the first state to enter into such an agreement with Israel, which has large life sciences and technology sectors, officials from both sides said. The governor also said Massachusetts has hired an experienced international development hand, Hadas Bar-Or, to serve as a trade representative to Israel.
“Why Massachusetts?” Hasson asked rhetorically. ‘I’ll be blunt. The governor knocked on our door. We kind of spoke the same language.’
Murray appeared with representatives from Northern Ireland and Finland to unveil another strategic alliance, one that will join the tissue engineering research efforts at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, three research universities in Finland, and two universities in Northern Ireland.
That deal followed a trade mission to Finland in April by the Northern Ireland Massachusetts Connection, an informal working group that Murray helped to establish. Finland later joined the group. No funding commitment was disclosed.
Massachusetts is globally well known for its innovations in health care and bioscience, said Kari Kohtamaki, health care and wellness manager for the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, who participated in yesterday’s announcement.
The only hitch at the pavilion came during Menino’s speech at Tuesday’s reception, when he was partially drowned out by a salsa and merengue band performing at a nearby exhibit.
“What is this?” the mayor grumbled. “Some small city trying to compete with Boston?”
The Massachusetts pavilion responded by cranking up its own music – some hip-hop songs followed by the inevitable ÒSweet Caroline,’ a staple at Fenway Park.
Robert Weisman can be reached at
Globe Staff / June 30, 2011
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