The Outsized Role of Massachusetts in Solving the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 14, 2020

By Bob Coughlin, President & CEO, MassBio

Gathered within a few square miles and stretched across the state, Massachusetts is home to world-leading academic and medical centers, a robust startup economy, and small to large-sized biopharma companies, all of which have come together to fight the novel coronavirus. We are currently living through a historic crisis, and it is ultimately science and innovation that will lead us through this pandemic. We’re seeing that right here in the State of Possible – the #1 life sciences cluster in the world.

When the coronavirus outbreak intensified in Massachusetts, hospitals were inundated with COVID-19 patients, personal protective equipment (PPE) was dwindling, and healthcare workers were being potentially exposed to a highly contagious virus. In response, MassBio teamed up with MassMEDIC, MHA, and COBTH, to create the Life Sciences Emergency SupplyHub and put out a call to action to the broader life sciences community to donate PPE and other supplies to support our healthcare workers on the front lines. The response was astounding – over 500 companies offered to donate. Beyond these donations, many biopharma employees who already had medical experience leveraged those skills and offered to volunteer on the front lines as doctors, nurses, and paramedics, but, the efforts did not stop there. In a time of great uncertainty, a mass influx of not only life sciences companies, but also over 600 companies from industries across Massachusetts offered to shift operations to produce PPE. Massachusetts is ripe with companies and people who saw the opportunity to join the fight against the coronavirus and leapt at the chance to do so. From donations, to the joining the front lines, to working diligently in the lab, we can finally begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel – every day more Massachusetts companies are joining the fight against COVID-19.

As of writing this, over 70 companies headquartered or with a presence in Massachusetts, many of which are the small and emerging biotechs that are the backbone of our cluster, are working to develop diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. With every new company, there is more hope that the State of Possible will help find a way out of this pandemic. In recent weeks, one Massachusetts startup received FDA approval for a coronavirus diagnostic test using CRISPR technology – the first time CRISPR will ever be used in the general population; another large biopharma with a presence in Massachusetts saw great success in a repurposed drug in treating COVID-19 symptoms; and the race to a vaccine appears to have taken on the guise of a sprint, not a marathon.

A vaccine has never been more vital to the world’s economy as it is now. They can take anywhere from 5-10 years to develop, but in a time of unprecedented innovation and commitment to patients, Massachusetts companies believe they can begin distributing the vaccine by early 2021 – or even sooner. Currently, there are over 100 vaccines in development around the world, with only eight in clinical trials. Of those candidates, half are in China, and two are from a Massachusetts-headquartered company and a biopharma with a large presence in Massachusetts. We’ve already seen great progress in tests, treatments, and vaccines in a very short amount of time – but it’s just the beginning of the success our industry can and will bring.

It has become more and more clear that the life sciences cluster in Massachusetts has an outsized role in this pandemic. The response from industry should serve as a reminder of just how critical our industry is. It is Massachusetts’s expansive cohort of startups and emerging biotechs that are driving the innovation that will lead us through this pandemic, and any others that may follow. We should take this unwavering commitment and unified response with us in the future when we look back at these trying times. As we continue to navigate these murky waters, we have to be conscious of this unprecedented situation and use our newfound knowledge to be more prepared for something of this nature in the future. We have to continue to act to ensure we have enough PPE to protect healthcare workers and support for the innovation being cultivated in Massachusetts. We are lucky to live in the State of Possible, and for that reason, we can be hopeful for the future. It is our industry that will ultimately save us and the economy.

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