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Boston Area Still Tops Among Life Sciences Clusters

The Greater Boston region is still the strongest life sciences cluster in the US, with its R&D engine "fueled by top-notch universities, innovation centers, research hospitals, venture capital firms, and, most importantly, a strong labor force," according to a new report that ranks the top 20 clusters.

The Northeast region in general has seen "impressive growth, demand, and resultant real estate development," largely due to partnerships between academic, healthcare, and private sector institutions, the report from the real-estate-focused financial and professional services firm Jones Lang Lasalle says.

Some emerging regions in the US have been pursuing an "if you build it, they will come" strategy combining targeted incentives, new construction of incubator centers and parks, economic development groups, and public private partnerships to grow their life sciences sectors.

The life sciences, biotech, and pharmaceutical industries are coveted as growth areas because they have "enjoyed higher profit margins" than other segments amid the turbulent wake of the recent recession and the ongoing European sovereign debt crisis.

The blood of Greater Boston's life sciences market pumps out of Cambridge, which is stocked with nearly 7.5 million square-feet of lab space and the intellectual capital of academic centers like Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as institutes such as the Broad Institute and the Whitehead Institute, and venture capital firms in Kendall Square. But the region also is seeing life sciences sector growth in the suburbs, in the Seaport District, and the Longwood Medical and Academic Area.

In 2012, the Greater Boston regions reeled in $2.3 billion in NIH funding and $1.4 billion in venture capital investments.

Following Greater Boston in the 2012 standings for life sciences clusters was San Diego; the San Francisco Bay Area; Raleigh-Durham; Philadelphia; the Suburban Maryland/DC/Arlington region; the New Jersey/New York City region; Los Angeles/Orange County; Minneapolis, St. Paul; and Seattle.

The suburban Maryland/DC/Arlington region has been particularly affected by the genomics research, as the I-270 Corridor in Montgomery County is locally known as DNA Alley, and hosts the J. Craig Venter Institute, a new NIH lease on an infectious disease research center in Rockville, and will house a 244,000 square-foot facility that Qiagen plans to build in the area.

While this corridor has stagnated somewhat due to decreases in federal spending — NIH funding in 2012 totaled $965 million — long-term gains could be seen from state and local incentives and venture capital investments, the report suggests.

Jones Lang Lasalle used quantitative data to rank the regions based on their existing infrastructure and their propensity to support life sciences industries.