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May 9, 2024

Life sciences caucus formed to bolster biopharma industry

A woman in an orange shirt and black and orange printed jacket stands in front of a large brown desk with brown leather chairs behind. Photo I Alison Kuznitz/State House News Service Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante is co-chair of the new Life Sciences Caucus, a reboot of the former Biotech Caucus, that held a launch event on Wednesday, May 8.

A pair of lawmakers launched a Life Sciences Caucus Wednesday, adding another layer of Beacon Hill lobbying for the biopharma industry that appears likely to receive a third round of major financial support and tax incentives from the state under a proposal offered by Gov. Maura Healey.

The new group, a reboot of the former legislative Biotech Caucus, is co-chaired by Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante and Sen. Sal DiDomenico. Joining the caucus so far are Reps. John Moran, Kristin Kassner, James Arena-DeRosa, Chynah Tyler, and Steve Owens, a Ferrante aide said. DiDomenico's office is welcoming senators to join the group, an aide to the Everett Democrat said.

Ferrante, a cancer patient, called the caucus kickoff "really important" as lawmakers weight Healey's request to reauthorize the state life sciences initiative at $1 billion for another decade. The governor's roughly $3.5 billion economic development bill was aired during a committee hearing Tuesday, and Healey discussed her plans to keep talent, including new graduates, in Massachusetts while tackling the state's steep housing costs.

"This might be one of the most important pieces of legislation that we work on in terms of having the ability to save lives. I would not be here if it weren't for life sciences 1.0, 2.0 and hopefully, now 3.0," Ferrante said. "The governor has been using this catchphrase, 'lengthening the lead.' In my head when I hear lengthening the lead, I hear 'lengthening the life' because I see and I experience so many of the patients and their journeys, (and) what this industry can do to take someone who has a dire diagnosis or rare disease and give them hope for more time."

Earlier versions of the life sciences initiative found strong support in the Legislature and from former Govs. Deval Patrick and Charlie Baker. This session, lawmakers are expected to approve some version of Healey's plan, which includes $500 million in capital funding for the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, $350 million for life sciences tax incentives, and $150 million in operating costs for workforce training and other efforts to support the sector.

Ferrante said lawmakers are working to understand what is included in Healey's $500 million capital request for the MLSC and why the money is "so critical" for the center. Ferrante, asked by the News Service whether she would make any adjustments to Healey's reauthorization request, said, "It's too early to tell."

Attendees at the briefing included leaders from the MassBio trade group and MLSC, as well as Reps. Moran, Kassner, Owens, Tyler, Simon Cataldo, Rob Consalvo, Vanna Howard and Michelle Ciccolo.

Ed Coppinger, a former representative who's now head of government affairs at MassBio, thanked Ferrante and DiDomenico for agreeing to lead the caucus. Coppinger said the group last met two years ago.

"I appreciate the caucus is going to be leading the way in the House and Senate on this issue and trying to make sure that everyone in both chambers understands how important it is to our economy and to the state of Massachusetts overall," DiDomenico said.

When Patrick signed the initial life sciences initiative in 2008, only seven out of the top 20 global pharmaceutical companies had a presence in Massachusetts, compared to 18 today, said Ben Bradford, chief of external affairs at MassBio.

"I think we shouldn't take for granted the role that government can play in growing an industry," Bradford said, as he noted Healey's bill also makes a similar big investment in the climate technology sector.

During Tuesday's hearing, Healey and Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao emphasized their focus on protecting the commonwealth's lead in the life sciences sector and not growing complacent amid escalating competition from other states.

Beyond the cluster of biopharma companies in Greater Boston, Worcester is ranked as the 15th best market for life sciences research talent in the country. Jon Weaver, CEO of the Worcester-based incubator Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives, brought up the statistic during Tuesday's hearing.

The Worcester region is expected to add 1,200 new biomanufacturing jobs over the next two to three years, Weaver said.

"We want these jobs -- they're accessible with a high school diploma and relevant skills training, and provide incredible opportunities for upward mobility," Weaver said. "Central Massachusetts is on the verge of something special, and we cannot stop now. Worcester and central Massachusetts are competing nationally against North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania and other states with very aggressive plans to secure the biomanufacturing market."

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