It was recently reported that the president and CEO of MassBio, Bob Coughlin, is stepping down after 13 years at the helm of the commonwealth’s leading life sciences advocacy organization.
We’re thankful for Bob’s tireless efforts to promote Massachusetts’ vibrant life sciences industry and build upon our position as the leading life sciences cluster in the world. Since its founding in 1985, the not-for-profit organization has been committed to growing the industry, adding value to the healthcare system and improving patient lives.
MassBio may have been considered a sleepy organization prior to Bob’s leadership, but today it boasts more than 1,400 members across a wide spectrum of life sciences firms, including biotech, pharma and medical device companies, as well as Contract Research Organizations (CROs), Contract Manufacturing Organizations (CMOs), and Contract Development & Manufacturing Organizations (CDMOs). According to Bob’s farewell letter, we have 18 of the top 20 pharma companies claiming offices, R&D and other facilities across the state; and “Industry employment has grown by 94 percent in the last 15 years, adding more than 38,000 new jobs to the state’s economy.” Also, in the last 10 years, more than 16.5 million square feet of commercial lab space has been built. And, investment in early-stage R&D has exploded, with NIH and VC funding among the highest in the U.S.
This year, despite the serious toll COVID-19 has taken on MassBio’s efforts to hold revenue-driving events, such as professional development seminars, mixers and conferences, it has persevered.
MassBio’s success today can be attributed to its leadership, but also to the very nature of our region and its excellence in the field, which makes it an attractive destination for life sciences and pharma. The Boston and Cambridge areas alone are home to the world’s leading cluster of biotech, with more than 250 biotech companies in Cambridge, many located in the Kendall Square area.
The cluster of academic institutions, comprising more than 114 colleges and universities; as well as being home to 64 hospitals, also attracts life sciences firms to the area. And, the state is home to some of the leading venture capital firms. It’s also supported by a state government that is committed to growing the industry and isn’t afraid to show its support through grants and other funding initiatives.
Yet, while Massachusetts has much to be proud of in terms of its strong life sciences industry, we still have a ways to go. We’re challenged with the need to nurture talent and raise up new generations of innovative science leaders; and we must find a way to bring more pharma manufacturing back to the area in order to retain the full continuum of life sciences services – from discovery and R&D, to development and manufacturing.
The demand for biochemists and other scientists, project managers, Quality Control (QC) and Quality Assurance (QA) professionals, among others, continues to grow, and the region must find ways to interest and educate local students, while making Massachusetts a welcoming home for out-of-state students who graduate and would otherwise bring their talent back to their home states or countries.
While Massachusetts is feeling the heat, in terms of attracting new professionals to the field, it’s not confined to the state. According to a 2018 study, “the U.S. will have to fill 3.5 million STEM jobs by 2025, with more than 2 million of them going unfilled because of the lack of highly skilled candidates in demand.”
And, it’s not just professional positions that are in demand. The need for chemical operators in API manufacturing is soaring, and this role doesn’t require a college degree. The state needs to begin educating students about the many opportunities that abound, beginning in middle school or sooner, and STEM education needs to take even higher priority than it has. Further, higher education institutions need to do their part as well. Instead of pulling data and conducting research into the lack of diversity among STEM and life science professionals in Massachusetts, they need to go to the high schools in inner cities and explain what Life Science careers are all about and the job prospects they can offer –- with advanced degrees or without.
Massachusetts is home to extremely capable but limited number of Pharmaceutical CRO’s and manufacturing CDMOs, but it could do more to support them, by offering more incentives for pharma firms, developing drug products in Massachusetts, to manufacture them here as well.
Often, R&D occurs in Massachusetts but then manufacturing takes place in locations that are more cost effective – either in other states or internationally. Venture capital firms and other investors, along with the state government, need to encourage firms to utilize our vast manufacturing resources, and availability of open space, to manufacture their APIs and final drug products in Mass.
Offering greater incentives for firms keeping all of their operations locally, creates more jobs across the state, and boosts our economy. Countries, such as Switzerland or Canada go to great lengths to keep manufacturing locally through tax and other financial incentives and they provide good lessons for Massachusetts.
MassBio has and can continue to be a great catalyst for life sciences and pharma innovation and opportunities across the state. Its efforts can help to not only grow our industry leadership, but the state’s economy as well, opening up enormous job opportunities for everyone. As the regional hotbed of life science excellence, it’s our responsibility to make Massachusetts, the standard that other states can follow.
For more articles on the state of Massachusetts’ life sciences industry, please read: Providing Incentives to Attract Life Science Leaders is Half the Battle; or Making the Right Connections Inside Massachusetts for Business Development.