Ten years ago, Massachusetts took a risk.
With a 10-year, $1 billion initiative proposed by then-Gov. Deval Patrick, we chose to breathe life into a budding biotech and life sciences sector with the bold hope that funding new research would transform our state’s economy.
That investment has paid off.
Students at Chicopee Comprehensive High School, Putnam Vocational Technical Academy, Springfield High School of Science and Technology — and 146 other middle and high schools in the state — have brand-new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) equipment in their classrooms because of that investment.
The TechSpring Initiative at Baystate Health has received millions of dollars to develop and pilot cutting-edge innovations in healthcare.
Our scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and physicians are the envy of the world. In 2007, only seven top pharmaceutical companies had offices in Massachusetts. Today, 18 of the top 20 have a presence in Massachusetts.
But that 10-year down payment ran out this year, which is why the Massachusetts House and Senate came together to recommit our state to advancing education, workforce development and early-stage company growth in the life sciences.
On May 31, 2018, we approved a major new five-year investment — nearly $500 million — in authorizations, including a new biotechnology and precision manufacturing research and training facility at UMass-Amherst. The bill was shepherded by Rep. Joseph Wagner in the House and myself in the Senate, as the chairs of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, and signed by Gov. Charlie Baker — proof of the bipartisan support this initiative enjoys.
Because Western MA had a seat at the table, we made sure that a primary goal of this reinvestment was to pull the growth of this industry outside Kendall Square in Cambridge. The bill specifically includes $12 million in grants to community colleges and vocational technical schools to increase regional employment opportunities.
It is critical that we maintain this investment and expand its benefits across the state. Leadership in the life sciences is not our birthright as a state. It is the result of sound public policy that has nurtured our workforce and research ecosystem.
While we are the national leader in life sciences, we now have more competition than ever before.
California has a $3 billion bond program to promote stem cell research while North Carolina annually appropriates $30 million to the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. Meanwhile, New York began its own $1.1 billion life sciences fund last year.
Imagine the lost potential if we allow the next vaccine breakthrough, the next big discovery, the next life-saving drug, to be developed elsewhere.
We also face an unprecedented cutback in scientific research by the Trump Administration. In 2016, Massachusetts received $2.5 billion in federal funding for life science research, including grants from the National Institutes for Health. Now that this budget is seeing dramatic cuts, our state government must make up the difference.
That difference supports more than 63,000 jobs in life sciences companies and nearly 27,000 jobs in the medical technology sector.
That difference gives a student at Putnam or Chicopee Comp. the opportunity to experiment in the classroom, participate in hands-on learning, and even take a summer research course at UMass-Amherst. Thanks to the Internship Challenge Program, that student could apply to a paid internship at one of several local companies, including Court Square Group, Inc. in Springfield or FloDesign Sonics in Wilbraham.
This is the secret to our state’s success in the life sciences sector: government, research institutions and innovative startups are working together to make Massachusetts the national leader in inventing the future.
Our investments in the life sciences allow us to keep that coveted title.
– Senator Eric P. Lesser is Chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies, Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Financial Services. He represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District in Western Massachusetts.