Massachusetts is the #1 Life Sciences Cluster in the World. Now, Let’s Keep it that Way.

Feb 20, 2019

By Bob Coughlin, MassBio President & CEO

Science that has been tested for decades is finally a reality. It’s creating unbelievable opportunities to change the course of disease and improve the lives of patients, and it’s happening right here in Massachusetts – the #1 life sciences cluster in the world. Through biotech R&D that has grown 4% since 2015, Massachusetts-headquartered companies have developed therapies that treat up to 264 million patients in the United States and 2 billion patients globally. To further highlight Massachusetts’ life sciences reign: industry jobs have grown 28% and over 12 million square feet (a 71% increase) of commercial lab space has been developed in the last 10 years. So, what’s the catch?

The Massachusetts ecosystem is evolving every day, and there are certain factors that could threaten our leadership position. It’s time we address them head on.   

Workforce Development

The industry is growing at an unmatched rate. It’s predicted that by 2023 there will be 12,000 jobs that need to be filled, and we’re looking at high schools and universities to fill them. As the fight for talent intensifies, it is our responsibility to get students excited about careers in the life sciences and develop clear pathways from school into the industry. That’s where our sister organization, MassBioEd, is filling the void.

The second part of the workforce development hurdle is physical space. Skyrocketing rent hinders companies (and talent) from entering the Cambridge/Boston area. However, despite high concentration of life sciences companies in this area, we are seeing growth in all corners of Massachusetts, which should be applauded. In fact, half of the 2017 biotech IPOs in Massachusetts occurred in places like Waltham, Newton and Burlington.

Modernizing the System

The new wave of breakthrough treatments holds immense potential for patients, but it raises questions about patient access. Massachusetts must bring industry players together to support innovative payment methods to ensure these new therapies are not restricted. In doing so, we need all pieces of the health care system to agree on how to assess the value of prescription drugs – a one-size-fits-all approach is not the answer.

Rather than price tags, we must focus on the value prescription drugs bring to the healthcare system in terms of costs avoided, and to patients and families who are able to lead healthy and productive lives. To ensure Massachusetts remains number one, we must work to make sure the system can absorb and accept breakthrough drugs to promote access for all.  

Diversity & Inclusion

Every player in the life sciences industry has the potential to bring something new to the table, so why leave someone out and risk losing access to a critical discovery? With the number of diseases without a cure and for all those being discovered each year, we need the best and brightest working on solving the toughest problems – we cannot let unconscious biases plague the industry.

Promoting Diversity & Inclusion initiatives will be a key driver in keeping Massachusetts at the forefront of life sciences. It’s where the industry is headed, and we cannot lag behind. Though this won’t happen overnight, to move D&I initiatives forward organizations should: recruit with the purpose of diversifying function levels, work to retain women and diverse employees and advance them into senior leadership, and define what diversity and inclusion should look like.

Massachusetts is leading in life sciences innovation – our startup community is what fuels the cluster and keeps big pharma and investors here – but now the responsibility is on us to ensure our leadership remains.

To hear more about the evolving Massachusetts ecosystem and what we need to do to remain on top, register for our Annual Meeting, now the State of Possible Conference.

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