A recent Boston Globe article shared how life sciences is on track to be Boston’s dominant industry: “the Silicon Valley of biotech.” Boosted by Cambridge, Mass.-based Moderna’s groundbreaking COVID-19 vaccine and Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug, the area’s biotechnology industry is in the spotlight. In fact, according to the article, Massachusetts has played a part in all three of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine research was done at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and a manufacturing plant in Andover has produced much of Pfizer’s vaccine output.
In addition, M&A activity and commercial development in the area is on the rise. According to Commercial Property Executive (CPE), “the Boston life sciences market continues to lead the nation, with a strong concentration of life sciences employment, supplemented by venture capital funding and steady occupancy.” According to the Massachusetts Biotech Council, the state added 24,000 jobs over the past ten years, and all 10 of the biggest pharmaceutical firms have some presence here.
It’s no wonder that the life sciences sector in Massachusetts has expanded at about twice the overall rate of the state and U.S. economies since 2014, according to Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation.
What Makes Mass. So Special for Life Sciences?
Massachusetts remains the number-one biopharma cluster in the country thanks to four key attributes:
- Home to leading health systems. Massachusetts is home to 97 hospitals including some of the leading research hospitals in the world. For example, Harvard University is affiliated with dozens of hospitals, such as Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital. The confluence of hospitals and health systems and leading academic research centers provide the centers of excellence needed for continued innovation.
- Hub of world-leading universities. Many Massachusetts universities, such as Harvard and MIT, are renowned for science, technology, engineering and Math (STEM) programs. These universities drive not only innovation and cutting-edge science, as mentioned above, but they also bring the state a steady stream of talented scientists and business executives who choose to make the state their home following their graduation from these elite universities.
- State government support. The Massachusetts government is committed to keeping the state an attractive home to life sciences. To ensure the state’s ecosystem remains the hotbed for life sciences activity, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) offers its Tax Incentive program to create jobs, build a robust workforce, and propel the development of new therapies, devices, and scientific advancements that are improving patient health and well-being. To date, the Tax Incentive program has resulted in 8,162 jobs. After eleven rounds of the program, more than 291 awards totaling more than $241 million has supported life sciences companies of all sizes, sectors and geographic distribution across Massachusetts, according to the MLSC.
- Robust Venture Capital Pipeline. Massachusetts also is home to some of the nation’s leading venture capital firms and financial institutions. Because of this, funding has poured into the region. In March 2021, MassBio reported that the state’s biopharma industry experienced its best funding year on record. In 2020, venture capital investment in Massachusetts biopharma companies reached $5.8 billion. In addition, 21 Massachusetts biotech companies went public in 2020, a 110% increase from 2019, totaling $3.9 billion raised. These Massachusetts companies accounted for 32% of all U.S.-based biotech IPOs by volume.
How to Ensure a Talent Shortage Doesn’t Deflate Growth
While the life sciences industry is booming across the state, the talent shortage needs to be addressed to ensure continued growth – not only in Massachusetts but across the country. In order to maintain the top spot, the state must find ways to keep bright, promising students in the state, as well as raise the next generation of them.
According to a BioSpace article, a MassBioEd report showed that the home-grown talent pipeline is not adequate enough to meet the growing demands in the Bay State. “By the end of 2018, there were more than 74,000 people employed in the life sciences sector in Massachusetts and that number is projected to increase by 12,000 by 2024. In order to meet growing demand, it’s imperative that STEM programs be offered, supported and incentivized by the state and local governments from K-12 grades and beyond.
And, life sciences talent is not only in short supply in senior-level positions, but across all roles – from quality specialists to technicians and manufacturing workers.
To reinvigorate interest in life sciences, grants and funding should work to enable life sciences studies for all students with an interest in the field. Yet, it doesn’t only have to impact government funds. Academic institutions and private firms can also work together to offer real-world training via internships and mentoring programs.
Massachusetts is firmly established as the number-one hub for life science innovation and leadership and this recognition has been reinforced, given the role it has played in COVID-19 vaccines and other breakthrough medicine. In order to maintain this status, however, the industry needs to reinvigorate interest in the field, while gaining government and private support to make it an easy destination for businesses and life science professionals who will continue to make Massachusetts the benchmark of life science excellence.
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