Hustling to drive the industry forward and stay on top

Jan 26, 2023

By Kendalle Burlin O'Connell, CEO and President, MassBio

Governor Maura Healey address the 2023 MassBio Policy Leadership Breakfast. (Photos by John Wilcox)

“Get out and get after it.”

That’s how Governor Maura Healey described her administration’s work ethic—their “hustle”—during remarks at this year’s MassBio Policy Leadership Breakfast. The packed ballroom just steps from the Massachusetts State House signified the unofficial kickoff for MassBio’s year and I left there more excited than ever about the life sciences industry in Massachusetts.

During one of her first speaking engagements since her inauguration earlier this month, Governor Healey hailed the sector that helped to make an in-person breakfast possible, affirmed that she and her team are true partners with the state’s life sciences industry, and pledged state support for workforce development efforts, among other policy areas to address threats to the Commonwealth’s economic competitiveness.

Dr. Noubar Afeyan, Founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering, offered keynote remarks.

What I heard and saw at the breakfast were state government partners who are ready to roll up their sleeves and fight for the cluster’s continued dominance. I saw policymakers who not only understand how the industry was born out of unprecedented collaboration between government, industry, and academia, but who also grasp the threats both locally and in other cities and states to this essential economic driver.

Speaker after speaker made the case for ongoing partnership:

  • Dr. Noubar Afeyan, Founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering, called out integrated biomanufacturing as an area for public-private partnerships could have an immediate impact;
  • Kenn Turner, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, put forth a forceful rallying cry for all to step up in areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion;
  • And panelists spoke specifically to what this ecosystem—which now stretches well beyond the confines of Kendall Square—offers to companies, science, residents ideas, and most importantly, patients.

You could hear a pin drop as Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante, MassBio’s 2022 Legislator of the Year, relayed her own personal story about how this industry saved her life. And she didn’t stop there, speaking about the new opportunities that diverse and disadvantaged young people in her hometown of Gloucester are taking advantage of through GMGI’s biotech academy.

This is how we change lives. Through the therapies, the vaccines, and the diagnostics, absolutely. But also by being more deliberate in delivering access and opportunity to the careers that our industry can offer. The work on the former never ceases in labs across the state, while our commitment to the latter enters a new phase when the MassBio Workforce Training Center at Southline Boston opens in Dorchester later this year.

Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante (center) being presented with the 2022 MassBio Legislator of the Year Award.

What you didn’t hear much about at the breakfast was the industry’s reset—it’s Sunday morning coming down, as Johnny Cash might put it, after the frothy year of 2021. A closed IPO window, limited M&A activity, and investors looking for more data on longer time horizons—these are the current realities. That said, people with unmet medical needs continue to look to the industry with hope. And though some companies may fold and layoffs might continue, the fundamentals of the industry are strong and the ingredients that built the cluster—talent, funding, collaboration, entrepreneurship—remain.

A few weeks ago, a MassBio team was in San Francisco for the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. When they got back, they spoke of a more subdued JPM lacking the breaking news of past gatherings. The event reflected some of the uncertainty around funding and markets, and the larger macroeconomic headwinds, but also featured an optimism that the unsettled present will yield to a stronger future.

MassBio Chief Corporate Officer Zach Stanley moderating a panel featuring Dan McGrath (Berkeley Investments), Dr. Iva S. Morse (MilliporeSigma), and Trinh Nguyen (City of Boston).

As the epicenter of the industry, as Governor Healey put it, perhaps we naturally have a rosier view of the state of the industry. But I am okay with that because the energy that I felt from those in the audience and on the stage at the breakfast tells me that we have what it takes to continue to grow what we have here in Massachusetts.

Industry observers don’t have to look beyond our next two premiere MassBio events to see that we are full steam ahead in fulfilling our mission. Rare Disease Day returns to the Statehouse at the end of February, and State of Possible in April gets even bigger with the addition of the Align Summit. Patients are always top of mind, especially with those living with a rare disease that most people have never heard of and facilitating the connections between science and money is one way we drive progress.

State of Possible might be the name of our annual meeting and a marketing slogan synonymous with MassBio, but this year it takes on an even deeper meaning as we reinvigorate the partnerships that have been the foundation of the ecosystem to write the next chapter. Addressing housing affordability, transportation reliability, and childcare availability are on the agenda, as are boosting the talent pipeline, diversifying the workforce, and supporting innovation.

With the world coming to Boston in June for the BIO International Convention—back for the first time in five years—now is our time to shine. Let’s all move toward our shared goals together in the year ahead, turning the spoken words expressed at the breakfast into real and lasting actions.

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