Boston Globe: No more outsourcing? Making drugs locally is a key focus of the life sciences industry.

Jul 13, 2023

By Robert Weisman, Staff Reporter, Boston Globe

The following excerpts are from a story by Robert Weisman originally published to on July 13, 2023.

State officials are also mindful of the need to extend the industry’s footprint throughout Massachusetts as it steps out of its hub in Cambridge’s Kendall Square to sites in Watertown, Somerville, Boston’s Fenway neighborhood, and beyond. Middlesex County, home to Cambridge, accounts for nearly half of the state’s biomanufacturing jobs.

“We want to be the leader in biomanufacturing as well as discovery, and create more good jobs in more of our communities,” Healey said in an address to the Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s convention last month at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

The governor hasn’t yet offered specifics or outlined a timetable. But economic development officials from the state, and the City of Boston, unveiled some modest new programs at the BIO convention aimed at preparing workers without four-year degrees for less skilled jobs that are already opening up — and going unfilled, in many cases — at biotech companies. By expanding local manufacturing, the state could extend the benefits of an industry bursting with PhDs into the blue-collar workforce.

“We have to do a better job ensuring that people growing up in Massachusetts, regardless of educational level, can be trained for specific jobs in this industry,” said Ben Bradford, head of external affairs at the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, known as MassBio. “Biomanufacturing brings a whole new population into that fold.”

In an emerging era of gene editing, immunotherapies, and personalized medicines, “companies want to get it right,” said Bradford at MassBio. “You want manufacturing to be close to your research and development.” The savings that come by avoiding expensive mistakes help companies offset the higher cost of doing business in Massachusetts, he said.

That’s the case at the 112,000-square-foot facility Ultragenyx opened last month in a Bedford industrial park. The sprawling facility, with exterior panels representing the sequenced human genome, has installed 2,000-liter bioreactors lined with single-use bags to make gene therapies developed in its Cambridge labs to treat rare liver diseases.The plant is starting out with 120 full-time workers, plus contractors, but has the capacity to expand as more products come online.

Huang said company executives understood it would be cheaper to operate a manufacturing plant in North Carolina or Texas. But they determined the expertise in Massachusetts “is ideally suited for genetic-based therapies,” he said. The plant is making the therapies in small batches for clinical studies of patients with rare genetic diseases such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy and Wilson disease, an inherited disorder that causes copper to accumulate in the liver and brain.

Many biotechs once averse to manufacturing in Massachusetts are now embracing the idea and scouting for their own sites, MassBio’s Bradford said. “The two questions they have are, ‘When are we going to be able to move in?’ and ‘Where can we find the talent?’ ”

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