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As Mass. Governor Preps $1B Life Science Bill For Legislature, Some Initiatives Move Ahead

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NEWTON, MASS. – Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is two weeks away from presenting to state legislative leaders a bill codifying his $1 billion, 10-year Life Sciences Initiative, the state’s top economic development official told BioRegion News last week.
 
Daniel O’Connell, secretary of housing and economic development, said in an interview that the biotech advancement measure would be submitted to Massachusetts House of Representatives Speaker Salvatore DiMasi (D-Boston) and state Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) early in July. That would make the bill one of the first issues that state lawmakers will take up after Murray, DiMasi, and Patrick wrap up a budget agreement for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
 
That agreement was expected to detail how much, if any, of state funding this fiscal year will be applied toward the billion-dollar biotech bill. While the Boston Globe, citing two unnamed “sources with knowledge of the talks,” reported June 21 that DiMasi balked at Murray’s proposal to use surplus funds for the bio initiative, O’Connell and University of Massachusetts President Jack Wilson told BRN that DiMasi and Murray only differed on how much money should be used.
 
O’Connell said legislative leaders were pondering how much of the surplus should be used toward expanding a state agency created last year by Patrick’s predecessor Mitt Romney to support the state’s biotech industry by funding companies and researchers.
 
“That’s in discussions with the legislature right now: How do you get the initial operational funding in place?” O’Connell said.
 
He said the surplus issue explained why no bill had been submitted more than a month after Patrick thrilled the state’s biotech establishment May 7 by using an appearance at the BIO 2007 global convention in Boston to announce his plan. Patrick would spend $1 billion over the next 10 years to attract and retain biotech companies, subsidize research, and train future professionals [BioRegion News, May 14].
 
“The governor’s going to introduce to the legislature in the next two weeks an implementation bill, a piece of legislation that covers all aspects of [the Life Sciences Initiative]. He’s been working with the speakers and Senate president in putting that together,” O’Connell said in the interview, minutes before he joined four fellow panelists in addressing attendees of the Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development’s 14th annual conference, held at the Boston Marriott Newtown hotel.
 
O’Connell spoke a day after Patrick promised an audience of biotech business, research and academic leaders he would introduce the bill some time in July. Patrick addressed some 120 biotech leaders gathered in Cambridge at The Charles Hotel, Harvard Square to flesh out ideas for inclusion in the bill.
 
Spokespeople for DiMasi and Murray did not return calls from BioRegion News seeking comment.
 
$10M Grant Program to Survive Overhaul
 
O’Connell said he and other Patrick administration officials have already started work on a key initiative to be funded by the bill — an overhaul of the state Life Sciences Center, the agency created by Patrick’s predecessor Mitt Romney last year to support the state’s biotech industry.
 
The overhaul began at the June 7 meeting of the state Life Sciences Center board of directors. The board accepted the resignations of the center’s first executive director Aaron D’Elia, and an aide. D’Elia was named to the $125,000-a-year post for one year starting last December by Romney, but the lame-duck appointment drew fire from biotech industry leaders because D’Elia had no life sciences experience.
 
The Life Sciences Center is now run on an interim basis by Stan McGee, assistant secretary for policy and planning in the state office of housing and economic development.
 
While D’Elia is gone, two of the projects he oversaw are continuing. O’Connell told BioRegion News the center will proceed with its research matching Grant Program, which will award a total $10 million in grants to academic researchers who team up with companies.
 
A formal request for proposals from researchers will be issued in August as previously planned, he said, after the board considers criteria for the grants now being developed by a veteran economic development consultant, Susan Moulton. That discussion is planned for the center board’s next meeting in July.
 
Also proceeding is a $250,000 study by UMass Donahue Institute projecting how many life sciences workers the industry will need over the next eight years. The center is funding $200,000 of the study cost; the remainder will come from the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council [BioRegion News, June 18].
 
O’Connell, who chairs the center’s board, said board members have begun to discuss what qualifications a new executive director should possess. A subcommittee headed by board member Marc Beer, the president and CEO of ViaCell, is examining the issue.
 
The board is giving serious thought to requiring the center’s next director to have experience in the life sciences, whether in industry or in research institutions, said Wilson, who is also the board’s vice chairman.
 
“I would think we want to find somebody with a life sciences background and experience, as well as large-scale administrative and managerial experience,” Wilson told BioRegion News in a telephone interview. “The state has a billion-dollar or more initiative, and it will be a major management challenge.”
 
Another discussion topic has been allowing the center to tap into more expertise by expanding the size of its board beyond the current five members. No decision has been made yet, Wilson said.
 
The expanded board would oversee an agency whose budget and mission would also grow under Patrick’s plan. The governor and other officials said in May the center’s budget would multiply from the $10 million with which it was initially funded when it was created last year, though no specific figure was mentioned at the time.
 

The $1 billion Life Science Initiative bill could one of the first issues that state lawmakers take up after they wrap up a budget agreement for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Whatever the figure, the extra funding would pay for a variety of additional programs intended to advance the state’s life sciences cluster — one proposal had the life sciences center opening several facilities statewide. O’Connell said board members still want to create the facilities, but want each to specialize in a different technology.
 
“There’s a real desire to see that the life sciences industry is thriving throughout the state, not by having the same kind of facilities around the state, but rather, they will reflect the regional economies and strengths of the regions,” O’Connell said.
 
Among specialties under consideration are medical devices and biomanufacturing. The latter has been a life sciences specialty Massachusetts has been eager to attract. Last year Bristol-Myers Squibb agreed to locate a $750 million, 400,000-square-foot biologics-manufacturing plant now under construction in Devens, Mass., over a site in Rhode Island.
 
O’Connell said at the conference last week that the state is assisting two more pharma companies eyeing new manufacturing facilities. He said the state is wooing Shire Pharmaceuticals which last week presented plans to Lexington, Mass., officials for a $394 million expansion at
LexingtonTechnologyPark consisting of 370,000 square feet in two buildings.
 
And while he wouldn’t divulge the second company, talk among real estate professionals has Cambridge-based Altus Pharmaceuticals, a publicly traded biopharmaceutical company, looking to open a new plant in Waltham.
 
UMass Restructures, With Life Science in Mind
 
Wilson said the state’s life science initiative would also be helped by a controversial restructuring of the UMass administration he successfully advanced through the university’s Board of Trustees.
 
By a 12-1 vote, the board on June 21 approved a series of administrative changes to the UMass system intended to knit its five campuses into a more cohesive group of schools better able to compete for top-tier students and research money.
 
Among the changes was naming Michael Collins, chancellor of UMass-Boston, as interim chancellor of the UMass Medical Center in Worcester and the system’s senior vice president for health sciences as of July 1. Wilson said Collins will serve as UMass’ point person in talks with administrators from the medical centers and research institutions interested in using the stem cell bank and research facility proposed under Patrick’s biotech initiative — a $66 million facility that UMass wants built within the medical center campus.
 
Because of Collins’ familiarity with the state’s key players in life sciences and his mix of industry, hospital, and university experience, he is “the kind of person we’ll be looking at as we look at who should lead the life sciences center,” Wilson said — before quickly adding that Collins was not under consideration for the life sciences center’s top job.
 
Collins will be succeeded as Boston chancellor by J. Keith Motley, the UMass system's vice president for business, while US Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Lowell) will become chancellor of UMass-Lowell, succeeding interim chancellor David J. MacKenzie.
 
The UMass restructuring drew fire from professors who argued they should have had more say in crafting the plan, and publicly linked it to the announcement that John Lombardi would step down as chancellor of UMass-Amherst after the spring 2008 semester, then continue as a professor.
 
Allies of Lombardi persuaded the faculty senates at UMass’ Amherst and Boston campuses to approve a no-confidence resolution denouncing the restructuring. A Romney-appointed trustee and former IBM research director, John Armstrong, resigned in protest. But except for Lawrence Boyle, UMass trustees sided with Wilson.

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