The June Edition of MBC News is Out!

June 25, 2009

Q&A with Dr. Susan Windham-Bannister, President & CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center



You've been on board with the MLSC for about a year now. Has your understanding of your role and the role of the MLSC changed in that time?

Over the past year we have established the Life Sciences Center as the hub for our state's thriving life sciences community, with clear goals in place of creating jobs, driving innovation and supporting good science. What has deepened over this past year is my understanding of my role and the Center's role in not just investing in the life sciences, but in shaping public opinion and awareness about the life sciences as both an economic engine for the Commonwealth, and as a source of products and therapies that will improve people's lives. Most people understand that our work is important to society - we are working to explain to people why this work is directly relevant to them and their families.

Explain your philosophy on how the $1B will be invested? How has the economic downturn changed that philosophy?

The approach we are taking at the Center is to seed, match and accelerate through the investments we make. What we look for in making investment decisions are opportunities to leverage private and federal matching funds in order to maximize our impact. To date we have committed $46 million in state dollars, leveraging $357 million in private and federal investment and helping to create a projected 950 jobs. The economic downturn has made our economic development mission even more important. It also has made our strategy of leveraging outside investment even more impactful. The downturn has made private investors risk averse, making it difficult for even promising early stage companies to secure capital. That is why we have made the provision of working capital a key priority for the Center through our Accelerator loan program. More information about the Center's programs is available on our web site at www.masslifesciences.com.

You recently announced the first round of loans in the Accelerator program. What distinguished the 7 winning companies from the other applicants?

Through the Accelerator program we recently provided $3.4 million in loan financing to seven early-stage companies. We received applications from 88 companies in this first round, demonstrating clearly the need for this kind of program in the marketplace. We put the applications through a rigorous double-blind peer review process (with reviewers from within and outside Massachusetts), followed by a review by our world-class Scientific Advisory Board, which includes four VCs and some of the state's top scientists from academia, medical centers and industry. The seven companies that we selected best met our criteria, which included a solid business plan, good science, the potential for major impact, and strong prospects for commercialization of research and job creation. The companies that we selected come from all ends of the life sciences spectrum, from biotech to pharmaceuticals, to medical devices, diagnostics, tools and services. One of the selected companies, InVivo Therapeutics in Cambridge, is leading the way in developing therapies to help people with traumatic spinal cord injuries walk again. Wolfe Labs in Watertown is a service provider that accelerates the ability of other companies to get products and therapies to market. All seven of the companies in our portfolio are working to bring research from the "bench to the bedside".

The MLSC has the power to grant $25 million in tax incentives this year, which isn't a lot when you think about the number of companies that are interested. How will those incentives be awarded?

The tax incentive program is capped at $25 million per year for each of the next ten years. Applications for the first year were due May 15, 2009, and the Center received eighty-six applications in this first round. Awards will be announced in September 2009. The awards will be made on a competitive basis, with applications vetted by our Scientific Advisory Board, chaired by Dr. Harvey Lodish, with a primary eye toward job creation and economic development. Final award decisions will be made by the Center's Board of Directors.

The MLSC partnered with the MBC on Growing Talent, a look at the future workforce needs of the biotech industry in Massachusetts. What do you see are the next steps in workforce development?

Through our Life Sciences Talent Initiative, the Center commissioned, together with MBC, the Growing Talent study to assess the current and future trends of the life sciences workforce. That study continues to provide the road map for developing innovative strategies that will address Massachusetts' talent needs. We have coupled the study findings with a host of meetings with companies and academic institutions. The Life Sciences Internship Challenge is the first of our programs to be developed as a direct response to the LSTI and stakeholder input. Consistent with the report's call for expanded internship opportunities in the life sciences, this program seeks to provide students with real-life experience working within life sciences companies and research institutions. Since the program was announced in April 2009 the Center has received more than 500 applications from interested students on our web site, and more than seventy companies and research institutions have signed up to participate. We had our program launch event on July 1, 2009, and as of that date more than sixty matches had been established. Companies interested in this program can learn more on the Center's web site at www.masslifesciences.com.

We will seek ongoing input from industry and academic stakeholders as we determine next steps in workforce development.

The LSI also outlines the creation of additional programs like Regional Innovation centers, a Mello Small Business program, and new MobileLabs to jumpstart science education. What is the plan to implement these other programs?

One year out from the signing of the Life Sciences Act, we have made significant progress in implementing the various programs that the Act envisioned. Working in partnership with MBC and other stakeholder organizations, we have implemented the Life Sciences Tax Incentive Program, the capital infrastructure program, a matching grant program to support scientific research, the Accelerator program to support early stage companies, and the Life Sciences Internship Challenge. We are developing new programs on a regular basis, with additional programming hinging on the provision of funding by the State Legislature.

What can we expect to see from the MLSC through the rest of 2009? More grants? Loans? New programs?

We at the Center have been focusing a lot of energy on our plan for year two activities. We will continue to seek investment opportunities that create jobs, leverage private capital, enhance our workforce and support good science. We currently are reviewing the applications we received for a second round of our New Investigator Matching Grants, a program designed to spur innovative new research and advance the careers of new investigators who are working on cutting-edge life sciences research. In September we will be awarding our first round of tax incentives. Depending on the level of funding we receive from the Legislature, we hope to solicit a second round of applications for the Accelerator Program, and to implement expanded workforce development programs. As demonstrated by the response we have gotten to our programs thus far, it is important that the Center be able to continue making aggressive investments. With fierce competition from other states and nations that are making significant investments to attract and build life sciences clusters, we in Massachusetts cannot take our leadership for granted. If we want to remain the leaders, we need to stay the course, with full implementation of the Life Sciences Act, including funding. We look forward to an ongoing partnership with MBC and all of your members as we continue this important work.
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