A Massachusetts think tank has published the fifth report in the past 18 months warning that the state’s nationwide leadership in life sciences has eroded in recent years and could disappear unless it addresses a growing list of competitive challenges.
Mass Insight Corporation identified three issues it said Massachusetts must tackle in coming years: increased competition from other states and nations for life-sciences employees; what it called inconsistent collaboration between industry and academia, both within Massachusetts and externally; and the absence of a workforce development strategy for growing and retaining the state’s life sciences talent.
In its 54-page report, the research and consulting firm offered numerous recommendations for addressing those issues. The costliest would have Massachusetts commit to global leadership in “new” or personalized medicine by developing a Translational Medicine Center. The center would invest in research intended to advance “bench-to-bedside” delivery of new therapies and treatments.
“The TMC would evaluate proposals for collaborative research undertaken by Massachusetts institutions and local research operations, whether they are mounted by Massachusetts companies, such as Genzyme, Biogen Idec, or Boston Scientific, or by out-of-state or foreign entities with operations in Massachusetts, such as Novartis, [Bristol-Myers Squibb], Pfizer or Merck,” Mass Insight said in its report.
“Massachusetts is particularly well positioned to play a leading role in this evolution. The state enjoys a strong position across the range of sectors that will generate value in personalized medicine: drugs, devices, instruments, and diagnostics,” the report added. “A number of Massachusetts companies and institutions are engaged in research and product development that will help realize the promise of personalized medicine, with work on pharmacogenomics and associated diagnostics.”
The complete report, titled “Life Sciences in Massachusetts: Forging Connections to Lead in a Changing World,” was prepared pro bono by McKinsey.
Mass Insight projected that the state could contribute $50 million to the projected cost of creating the TMC, which the report said could cost as much as $200 million. The balance of the funcing could come from private and federal sources, the report added.
Support from Washington, DC, is possible, the policy group argued, given the National Institutes of Health’s support of translational medicine through its Clinical and Translational Science Awards program, which is planned to support about 60 large-scale research institutions by 2012.
The TMC is one of four initiatives that Mass Insight recommended for the life sciences sector between now and 2015 — part of the group’s multi-year Global Massachusetts 2015 examination of the state’s key industries. The other three life sciences initiatives include:
- Facilitating greater collaboration between academic institutions and businesses, both within Massachusetts and through partnerships from outside the state;
- Creating a single institutional review board to oversee all clinical trials conducted by hospitals in the state. At present every hospital has its own such board; and
- Developing a single virtual tissue bank involving all the state’s hospitals. Mass Insight contends the tissue bank would help researchers by allowing them to order larger quantities of higher-quality samples.
According to Mass Insight, the translational medicine center could double as a catalyst for deepening collaboration between business and academic leaders in the life sciences. The group said such teamwork had not been encouraged as much as it should be by either sector or even by government — notwithstanding a year-old public-private effort to do exactly that.
“Given the local presence of players from California, New Jersey, the UK, Switzerland, and elsewhere, Massachusetts is well positioned for deeper relationships with existing hubs,” the report stated. “These relationships should include government, institutions, and industry in Massachusetts and abroad to ensure the state’s relevance to other key players.”
Achieving greater collaboration, the report added, will require the state to create a new group to oversee activity in the life-sciences sector. The group that has come closest to playing that role has been The Massachusetts Life Sciences Collaborative, formed in late 2006 to develop a strategy to enhance the state’s biopharma cluster and promote greater collaboration between business, academic, and government leaders.
The collaborative is funded by Harvard University; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Boston Foundation; the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a state agency that promotes the development of technology-based industries, and its John Adams Innovation Institute.
Glen Comiso, staff director of the collaborative and director of life sciences and health for the John Adams Innovation Institute, told BioRegion News that his group is transitioning to a new permanent life-sciences leadership group set to be created in May focused on increasing collaboration within the state’s life-sciences sector.
“The goal here is to establish a broader framework through a new center for these large-scale institutional collaborations.”
Comiso said his group has discussed the report’s findings with Mass Insight. “We think that the report did provide some interesting ideas that should definitely be vetted through by our various strategic task forces formed by Mass Insight to help write the report.”
William Guenther, president and founder of Mass Insight, told BioRegion News last week the report should not be read as a criticism of the Collaborative, which he said has taken “an extraordinary step forward” toward forging greater life sciences collaboration.
To be sure, the challenges raised in the report echo only some of those the Collaborative found when it surveyed 24 life science CEOs from across Massachusetts last December and January. Majorities of those chiefs said that the three biggest challenges to doing business in Massachusetts is the state’s high cost of living, its real-estate tax burden, and its state and local permitting processes.
Nearly three-quarters of the surveyed CEOs said they would consider relocating outside of Massachusetts. And while some CEOs cited workforce training as one factor that could persuade them to stay in the state, an equal number said lower-cost space, though a greater number cited larger economic-development subsidies [BioRegion News, Jan. 7].
Guenther said that while a “deep set of collaborations and networks” exist at the principal investigator level, less collaboration takes place among leaders of academic institutions, businesses, and government agencies. The translational medicine center, he said, could be key in forging those relationships, and thus tackling other problems.
“It is an effort to engage cross-institutional collaborations at the highest levels, to create a place where leadership can identify major opportunities for collaborations between the downtown medical centers and significant operation at [the University of Massachusetts] Medical [School] in Worcester,” Guenther said. “The goal here is to establish a broader framework through a new center for these large-scale institutional collaborations.”
He said the translational medicine center would also be key in positioning the greater Boston region as a major hub of new medicine, as well as provide an umbrella for carrying out the report’s other initiatives.
Forging a single review board for all hospital clinical trials, the report argued, would benefit life sciences companies by improving their access to the state’s top-flight medical centers and their patients; and benefit patients by improving their access to the latest treatments.
“The state’s share of clinical trial activity would increase accordingly, improving area hospital finances and providing local researchers with access to cutting-edge medicine,” the report states.
Mass Insight joins four other groups that have detailed the strengths and challenges of the state’s life-sciences sector during the past 18 months.
A month before the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s CEO survey, the nonprofit transportation policy group A Better City linked the future of Massachusetts’ life-sciences cluster with ongoing state and federal efforts to complete billions of dollars in projects designed to unclog the Boston region’s congested roads and shift thousands of drivers onto trains and buses.
A Better City’s report, titled “Connecting With Our Economic Future: A Transportation Investment Strategy for the Life Sciences Cluster,” drew criticism from the 500-member Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, which countered that the industry needs money more than transportation projects.
Peter Abair, MBC’s director of economic development, denounced A Better City’s report as “a superficial engagement with our cluster for the ultimate purpose of using this civic-minded industry to further ABC's narrowly focused transportation agenda” [BioRegion News, Nov. 19, 2007].
The three other reports are from:
- The John Adams Innovation Institute, which singled out “inconsistencies in the local permitting process and the reputation for an unpredictable regulatory environment” as the highest hurdles to a thriving life sciences sector in Massachusetts, in a 16-page study released in October 2006, “Taking Stock of Progress and Challenges: Massachusetts Life Sciences Supercluster;”
- The Massachusetts High Technology Council and the Donahue Institute of the University of Massachusetts, which together released an April 2007 study “A Critical Alliance: The Biotechnology & Pharmaceutical Industries in Massachusetts;” and
- PricewaterhouseCoopers, the New England Healthcare Institute, and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, which in April 2007 published “Super Cluster: Ideas, Perspectives and updates from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Industry.” The report noted several challenges for the industry, from job growth that lagged the national average between 2001 and 2005, to rising housing and living costs, a dwindling number of math and science students in the state’s K-12 schools, and growing competition from other states and countries.
The author of “Super Cluster” last week told BRN the Mass Insight report could prove valuable in helping the state’s life sciences sector keep growing for another generation.
“I like the fact it highlighted personalized medicine as an emerging opportunity” and the call for greater collaboration within the life sciences, said Gerald McDougall, partner in charge of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Sciences practice, in an interview.
“The Massachusetts biocluster is uniquely positioned in terms of the clinical community’s expertise and its proximity to the commercial sector,” McDougall said. “I think that’s going to position Boston on the global front in ways that aren’t exactly clear.”
So, too, he said, will developing collaboration in a region where universities, medical centers, businesses and government centers have traditional acted on their own. McDougall cited Arizona’s Translational Genomic Research Institute, which he helped create, as a model of collaboration he hoped would develop in Massachusetts with the translational medicine center.
According to McDougall, “an open-source model, or a portal model, if you will, would be helpful” for the translational medicine center “so it really is linked to both academia and industry, in such a way that it satisfies the needs of both academic labs or small to mid-size biotech companies that are capital constrained, or even large companies [that find] it doesn’t make sense to create their own facilities because the technologies are emerging.”
He agreed with Guenther and the report that collaboration could be key to developing a personalized-medicine niche in the region. Greater Boston will need to do so since it’s no longer a question of if personalized medicine will grow into a significant sector within the life sciences in the near future, McDougall said, but when.
Also not in question, Mass Insight concluded, was the need to move beyond the recent string of reports warning of trouble, and address it. “The important thing in this study was the focus on a specific set of actions and recommendations which can be implemented,” Guenther said. “A small leadership group has been established to help create these initiatives.”
The leadership group is co-chaired by Edward Benz, CEO of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Jeffrey Elton, senior vice president of strategy and global COO at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, Guenther added.