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Massachusetts Governor's Submits Bill For 10-Year, $1B Life Sciences Initiative

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Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has formally submitted to state lawmakers his bill to spend $1 billion over the next 10 years to attract and retain biotech companies, subsidize research, and train future professionals.
 
An Act Providing for the Investment In and Expansion of the Life Sciences Industry in the Commonwealth” would have the state spend $500 million on public education and other facilities, and life sciences equipment; $250 million on fellowships, research grants, and workforce training programs; and $250 million on tax subsidies targeted to job creation. The state expects private colleges, institutions and companies to chip in a total of $250 million for capital, fellowships, research grants, and workforce training.
 
The facilities spending would include capital funds for the construction of a new Massachusetts Stem Cell Bank that would make available for public and private research stem cell lines held by eight institutions — Boston University, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Children's Hospital, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Partners HealthCare, and the University of Massachusetts.
 
Another project to be funded would be an RNA interference center intended to advance the work of Craig Mello, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, the winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in medicine for helping to co-discoverer RNA interference technology.
 
Both projects would be built at the University of Massachusetts campus in Worcester. The stem-cell bank has been projected to cost $66 million; the RNAi center, $38 million.
 
Under the bill, the year-old Massachusetts Life Sciences Center would be overhauled, and its activity would stretch beyond its original mission of advancing the life science industry by funding companies and researchers. The center would decide how to divide the $25 million to be awarded each year through the Life Science Investment Fund for basic research, small business innovation grants, life science fellowships and workforce training.
 
This year the fund would combine $15 million in new state money with $10 million authorized when the program was created in 2006, but unspent to date. The fund would receive $25 million each of the next nine years, said Kofi Jones, a spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Economic Development.
 
Jones said the center has yet to name a successor to its first executive director, Aaron D’Elia, an appointee of Patrick’s predecessor Mitt Romney who resigned last month after six months in the post.
 
“We are still in the process of seeking a new executive director,” Jones told BioRegion News on July 20.
 
The Life Sciences Center’s board would be expanded from five to seven members, all serving five-year terms. The new board would be chaired by the state’s secretary of housing and economic development, Daniel O’Connell. It would include secretary of administration and finance Leslie Kirwan, University of Massachusetts President Jack Wilson, and four members to be appointed by Patrick.
 
The bill states that the four must include a physician “licensed to practice medicine in the commonwealth and affiliated with an academic medical center;” a CEO of a state-based life sciences business that is a member of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council; a researcher involved in commercializing biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, or medical diagnostic products; and a venture capitalist with “significant” experience in the life sciences sector.
 
O’Connell and Kirwan will also oversee the Life Science Sector Investment program, which will decide if life sciences companies can be “certified,” allowing them to qualify for the $25 million in tax incentives to be awarded annually.
 
“We want Massachusetts to provide the global platform for bringing innovation from the drawing board to the market, from inspiration to commercialization, and from ideas to cure,” Governor Patrick said in a July 19 press release announcing the legislation. “We look forward to working with the Legislature on speedy passage and to bringing to life our vision for expanding the Commonwealth’s global leadership in the life sciences.”
 
The provisions largely — but not entirely — reflect what Patrick announced when he unveiled the plan May 8 in Boston, during the 2007 Biotechnology Industry Organization’s annual conference.
 
One key difference: The bill does not discuss where the state should establish regional “life science innovation centers” for research and technology transfer, an idea Patrick broached in May.
 
“It will be at the discretion of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center as to whether or not they allocate funds to any possible other centers in the state. It will be at their discretion,” Jones said.
 
Patrick chose a joint session of the Massachusetts to announce his bill submission. The session was highlighted by an address by Mello.
 
Dave Falcone, a spokesman for state Senate president Therese Murray (D-Plymouth), said Murray is supportive of a bill that would keep the state competitive for life sciences companies and their jobs. He added: “There are always concerns about administration, structure, accountability and cost. Those will be carefully considered.”
 
Murray’s concern about costs echoes that made in a statement by state House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi (D-Suffolk), who said the legislation must be affordable.
 
At deadline the bill — formally the Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative — had yet to be assigned a number or referred to committees of the state House of Representatives and state Senate.

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