Live from BIO: Mass. attempts R&D/manufacturing balance

Call me a native son, but as someone from Massachusetts whose work involves the biotech industry I had to sit in on the panel session given by the state's delegation. I wanted to see how the Massachusetts pitch to biotech manufacturers compared with those I'd heard recently from other states and regions in the country.

We start with an academic heritage that provides a strong R&D orientation: MIT, Harvard, Worcester Polytech, and others. That is complemented by funds recently allocated to support Governor Deval Patrick's vision of the state maintaining its biotech credentials in a very competitive environment: $1 billion over ten years, approved by the legislature last year. A big chunk of that $1 billion is going toward activities that complement the R&D base, rather than trying to broaden it: manufacturing and training.

That's a checkmark in the plus column, even though it conflicts with the recent Massachusetts Biotech Council's 2015 strategic report released in April, which heavily emphasizes the R&D relationships.

Recent examples of the manufacturing emphasis include the newly launched biomanufacturing center and pilot bioprocessing plant at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell; a planned research facility containing incubator labs and scale-up suites that will offer large-scale bioprocessing services, workforce training, and applied research some 50 miles south of Boston; and the state's BioReady program, which provides a community ratings map characterizing the ease with which companies can come in and set up manufacturing operations: platinum, gold, silver, bronze. The program is opt-in, so manufacturers are assured that the cities and towns want biotech facilities located there and are aware of infrastructure necessities.

Panelist Mark Bamforth, a senior VP at Genzyme, is a self-proclaimed skeptic of state/academia/industry programs: "There are many examples of this not working very well," he told some 60 attendees at the conference session. He says that in such endeavors the "need for flexibility and focus is paramount." The focus needs to be on learning: hands-on training; production of materials for animal testing, prior to cGMP manufacturing for human trials; and the opportunity for companies to trial vendor equipment.

"This is as good as it gets," he says.

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