Supporting the Growth of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Industry Beyond its Epicenter

Aug 04, 2020

By Elizabeth Steele, VP of Programs & Global Affairs, MassBio

Nestled within a few square miles, Boston and Cambridge are home to world-renowned colleges and universities, hospitals and academic medical centers, a robust startup ecosystem, and both large and small biopharma companies that bring new hope to patients every day. The cluster exudes knowledge and innovation that have given Massachusetts its legacy as the best place in the world for the life sciences, but its unmatched growth has also become its Achilles’ heel.

According to a Q4 2019 analysis from Cushman & Wakefield, rent for office space in East Cambridge starts at $95 per square foot and premium lab space comes in at $105 per square foot – the highest in the region. Across the river in Boston, asking prices for rents grew 15% on average in 2019. In conjunction with these soaring rents, available lab space is declining. In fact, only 0.8% of lab space is still available in Boston, and 0.0% of lab space is reported vacant in East Cambridge (home of Kendall Square). Combined with commuting challenges for workers to travel into Cambridge and Boston every day, life sciences companies are increasing looking outside of the Cambridge/Boston cluster for their office and lab space.

This trend has proved beneficial for many companies who can rent more office and lab space at lower costs. With housing costs also on the rise in the city, life sciences companies that have migrated to the suburbs benefit from the closer proximity to talent which also eases commutes – a major point of contention for employees traveling in and out of Boston and Cambridge. Collectively, these factors have contributed to the growth of “mini-clusters” which are arising across the state in areas like Worcester, Bedford, Burlington, Lexington, areas on the north and south shores, and even in Western Massachusetts.

According to MassBio’s State of Possible 2025 Report, the expansion of mini-clusters outside of Cambridge and Boston is a key opportunity for the Massachusetts life sciences industry to achieve balanced growth over the next five years. To capitalize on this opportunity, we must build a deeper level of connectivity between the suburbs and the Cambridge/Boston core. Investments in Massachusetts’ decaying transportation system is a critical component in establishing this network since the life sciences industry depends on the ability to convene, connect, and catalyze innovation but this is hindered by inefficient roadways and public transportation. By modernizing the transportation infrastructure, companies and employees can readily travel into the Cambridge/Boston core for meetings and events, while expanding their footprint in the suburbs. Though we’ve seen more companies move to the suburbs over the past few years, it’s possible the COVID-19 pandemic will further drive these migrations and dynamically shift how companies perceive the need to be in or near Boston and Cambridge. However, it is too soon to predict what long-term impact this will have.

The strength of the life sciences industry in Massachusetts is not defined by one cluster, but rather the breadth of knowledge, resources, and networks that span the entire Commonwealth. With a strong academic network across the state, world-class talent, the proximity to Cambridge/Boston, and the presence of incubators statewide, the growth of mini-clusters is likely to be a significant source of expansion for the life sciences ecosystem in the state.  MassBio looks forward to working with state and local leaders to support this growth.

To learn more about how we can support the continued growth of the industry across Massachusetts, and what kinds of infrastructure investments must be made to ensure success, register for the State of Possible Conference, MassBio’s Annual Meeting coming up on August 26 & 27.

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