Governor Deval Patrick proposed his 10-year, $1 billion life sciences initiative in 2007, and signed it into law a year later, as part of a push to strengthen the state’s innovation sectors. While his efforts were slowed by the recession, the governor has claimed success in building on the state’s life sciences assets. Globe business reporter Robert Weisman recently spoke with Patrick in the governor’s office in advance of this week’s Biotechnology Industry Organization annual convention in Boston.
You’ve been at most of the BIO conventions in recent years, in Boston and elsewhere. Why is it so important for you to show the Bay State flag?
I hadn’t ever heard of the BIO conference before I went the first time. That was where we announced the life sciences initiative. I had one day walking around the floor, and it was mind-blowing.
What the life sciences initiative was intended to do, and has done, was to establish ourselves — this city and this commonwealth — as the international destination for life sciences and biotechnology.
Part of that is the substantive policy. But the other part is the marketing. Every company obviously is looking at the numbers and so forth. But they’re also [asking], “Does it have the right feel?” So I see showing up at BIO as the part of my job that’s the salesman part.
The last time the BIO convention was in Boston, in 2007, you announced the life sciences initiative. What’s your message this time?
We want to be able to do a check-in for the world on how the life sciences initiative has been going here. A couple hundred million dollars of accumulated public investment at this point has generated three-quarters of a billion dollars in private investment and thousands of jobs. People more and more appreciate that we have every element along the spectrum of life sciences and biotech, from academia to big pharma and everything in between.
Massachusetts already was a US and global leader in biomedicine before the initiative took effect. What's changed over the past four years?
A couple of things have changed. We had the basic bones. The MITs, the UMass Medicals, the Harvards were already here. The venture capital community was here. But we forget that we had a stem cell research ban, and that was an overhang.
My predecessor [former Governor Mitt Romney] put that in place, and we removed it. It’s not that it affected every company, but the notion that there were some limits on scientific exploration puts a shadow over the life sciences. That’s gone. And we’ve been consistent in support of the [life sciences initiative]. It’s a famous habit among governments to announce initiatives and then turn their attention to something else. This is a long-term initiative.
Are you satisfied with the funding levels? The state has spent just over $300 million so far, less than you’d anticipated, because of the Legislature’s fiscal constraints.
I’m very familiar with the fiscal situation. [Appropriations] have been about what was reasonable, but not what I wanted. But the more important thing is that they were consistent, even when we were making cuts elsewhere.
One of the advantages Massachusetts has in life sciences is our teaching hospitals draw more more federal research grants than anyplace else. Don’t other states resent that?
Well, you know what? Our university hospitals and other teaching and research institutions, they earn it. There’s some amazing work going on here. And one of the reasons why that work is so forward leaning is that people have figured out the power of collaboration. That’s the whole cluster idea, that being around other folks and colliding and having to work out problems together is actually a pretty significant accelerator.
A question some skeptics have asked is how much of this life sciences expansion would have happened anyway, given the strong biomedical sector in Massachusetts.
I don’t know. You should ask some folks who are in the industry. I can tell you that there are any number of conversations where people say, “We want to be here, or we were thinking of leaving but decided to stay because of the life sciences initiative.” Not every case is because of some tax break they’re going to get or some grant they’re going to get. They appreciate being appreciated.