State Life Science Law Holds Opportunities for New Bedford

By David Kibbe
Standard-Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — State leaders this week will tout Massachusetts’ $1 billion, 10-year life sciences initiative at an international biotechnology conference in San Diego.
Gov. Patrick signed the bill, more than a year in the making, at the Joslin Diabetes Center, surrounded by cheering employees, young patients and industry executives. He said the investment would keep Massachusetts at the forefront of the burgeoning life sciences field and potentially cure devastating diseases like diabetes.
“Tomorrow, we may find a cure for diabetes, and that cure may come in Massachusetts,” Gov. Patrick said. He referred to the new law as “advancing human healing.”
The life sciences law will provide $500 million in capital funding over 10 years for infrastructure improvements, including more than $200 million at the University of Massachusetts. There will be $250 million in research loans, grants and fellowships, and $250 million in tax incentives for the life sciences industry.
Five regional technology and innovation centers would be created around the state.
The bill earmarks $10 million for a new research center at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. The Marine Biological Laboratory is embarking on a $25 million plan to launch a Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine.
The center, which is in the planning stages, would study stem cell regeneration by using marine organisms as a model. One of the examples the lab has described to lawmakers is the ability of starfish to regenerate. The Marine Biological Laboratory will work with UMass Dartmouth and the Regional Technology Development Corporation of Cape Cod.
The legislation also provides $11.4 million for UMass Dartmouth to purchase the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center in Fall River, where it leases space, and $5 million for UMass Dartmouth to work with Bristol Community College on a regional life sciences incubator in New Bedford.
The law sets aside another $5 million for a life sciences center at the former Paul A. Dever State School in Taunton. The center would be managed by a board of directors, including representatives of UMass Dartmouth, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and Cape Cod Community College and Bristol Community College.
“The real good news in this bill is there is clearly a recognition on Beacon Hill that Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod and the University of Massachusetts have a big role to play in the development of the life sciences industry in Massachusetts,” said John Hoey, a spokesman for UMass Dartmouth.
Gov. Patrick, House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, and Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, were leading a state delegation to San Diego Monday night for an international biotechnology convention.
Rep. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, who worked closely on the legislation, is also going on the San Diego trip at his own expense. He met with life sciences companies in helping to craft the law.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said at Monday’s bill signing.
While Rep. Rodrigues acknowledged Boston and Cambridge are the hub for life science research, he said areas like SouthCoast have a role to play as the industry grows. He said there would be a need for everything from manufacturing to accountants.
The life sciences law passed overwhelmingly, but it was not without its critics. Some accused the state of favoring one industry over others. Even some life science executives faulted the bill for being laden with earmarks for specific projects in legislative districts.
Sen. Mark C.W. Montigny, D-New Bedford, one of only two Senate Democrats to vote against the bill last week, criticized it during a hearing earlier this year before the bonding committee he co-chairs. Sen. Montigny told Patrick administration officials the state had a poor track record of picking “winners and losers” in industry.
Sen. Montigny, who could not be reached for comment Monday, also said at the hearing that the proposal favors companies in the Boston area without doing enough for the rest of the state.
The legislation was a major political victory for Gov. Patrick, who found common ground with Rep. DiMasi despite an often contentious relationship. The fractures were most evident over the governor’s casino gambling bill, which Rep. DiMasi played a major role in defeating in March.
An ebullient Gov. Patrick said the bill signing was “a clear and important political point that the Legislature and the administration can work together on big, complex initiatives when we set our mind to it.”
Monday, there were handshakes and smiles. Rep. DiMasi recalled his parents’ struggles with diabetes — they were both patients at Joslin — and he congratulated the governor for proposing the initiative more than a year ago.
“Gov. Patrick deserves full credit for what he has done in this area,” Rep. DiMasi said. “It will be an incredible legacy. ” This act will keep us in the forefront of the life science industry for many years to come.”
June 17, 2008
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