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Mass. woos biotech firms at BIO convention

State, local officials highlight advantages

Susan Windham-Bannister outlined the benefits of locating in Massachusetts for Tom Speedy of Innova Biosciences.

John Zich for The Boston Globe

Susan Windham-Bannister outlined the benefits of locating in Massachusetts for Tom Speedy of Innova Biosciences.

CHICAGO — Around the tables at the Massachusetts pavilion Tuesday, there was the buzz of deals in the making.

State officials, along with representatives from Boston, Cambridge, and Quincy, huddled in meetings with executives from biotech companies in Israel, Northern Ireland, and New Zealand. Similar scenes were being played out across an exhibition hall the size of four football fields at the Biotechnology Industry Organization annual convention here.

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“How can we be of help?” Susan Windham-Bannister, president of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, asked Tom Speedy, corporate business manager for Innova Biosciences Ltd. based in Cambridge, England, at the pavilion’s Red Sox table.

Speedy, who was wearing a pin-striped suit with a United Kingdom pin and had set up 35 meetings at BIO, laid out his 11-year-old company’s plans to establish a US subsidiary — and probably base it in Massachusetts. But because of financial constraints, he lamented, it may be one to three years before it can move forward with those plans.

“We now have product in the US,” Speedy said, describing substances called reagents that aid in the testing of biotech drugs. “But our focus now is on sales. As we move to the new financial year, resources will be reallocated.”

Windham-Bannister cited the potential for tax credits, and help in finding real estate and raising capital, available through Governor Deval Patrick’s $1 billion life sciences initiative. “We want to keep in close touch,” she said. “Is there anything we can do to help you accelerate your timetable?”

Angus McQuilken of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center delivered a presentation.

JOHN ZICH FOR THE GLOBE

Angus McQuilken of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center delivered a presentation.

While there are nonstop roundtables and panel discussions at BIO, the real business of the convention might be called bio-wooing. It is a networking process where executives from 48 states and 65 countries talk about possible mergers or collaborations while economic development officials dangle loans, grants, and tax incentives to try to lure businesses from other states or countries. Even if companies are not moving their corporate offices, they may be scouting for a sales office or manufacturing site.

Officials stress the state’s world-class universities, educated workforce, and strong community of investors.

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Massachusetts officials disclosed one success Tuesday: Hemarina SA, a seven-year-old biotech start-up in Morlaix, France, agreed to establish a US subsidiary in Boston.

Each state or nation has its own pavilion — and its own pitch — in the cavernous exhibition hall of the McCormick Place convention center.

Oklahoma is playing up its entrepreneurial heritage and strength in agriculture-related biofuels as the state tries to court overseas companies. “We’re a land-run state,” said Roy H. Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, which runs the state’s pavilion. “The 10,000 people who created Oklahoma City overnight in 1889 were entrepreneurs.”

New Jersey boasts about having a cluster of big pharmaceutical companies and its strategic location between New York and Washington, D.C. “What we like to say about New Jersey is it’s highly skilled, perfectly located,” said Tracye McDaniel, chief executive of Choose New Jersey Inc., an organization that promotes the state. “We’re trying to get jobs from wherever we can.”

At the Polish pavilion, officials were inviting US and European biotechnology companies to visit the industrial parks around Krakow and Lodz and consider their proximity to other Eastern European markets. “We are a big market ourselves — 40 million people — one of the largest in Europe,” said Michal Zielinski, executive director of Ageron Polska, a group that runs the pavilion. “And we consume a lot of [prescription] drugs.”

Officials from Massachusetts, considered the largest US life sciences hub, stress its world-class universities, educated workforce, and strong community of investors.

Angus McQuilken, vice president of marketing for the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, sounded those notes during a Tuesday morning presentation to the Council of European BioRegions. Even as he was being introduced to several dozen executives at the European Commission booth, a representative from Taiwan was handing out fliers touting the advantages of doing business there.

“We like to describe our entire state as one big biopark,” McQuilken told his audience, many of whom were sipping cappucinos freshly brewed at the booth. “If any of you are looking to establish a US office, please come by the Massachusetts pavilion and talk to us.”

One of those who attended the presentation, Frederic Druck, director of international relations for the health cluster of Wallonia in Belgium, said his region had already signed up with a four-nation consortium working with Massachusetts companies.

“Massachusetts is number one, excellent in science and business,” Druck said. “We are trying to connect with Massachusetts to internationalize our research and development.”

Leslie Williams, chief executive of Immusant Inc., a venture-backed Cambridge company, that acquired a therapeutic vaccine to treat celiac disease from a university in Melbourne, Australia, stopped by the Massachusetts pavilion to learn more about a new program to fund joint research products between the state and overseas companies. “I’m looking for all opportunities for different sources of funding as we look to expand our platform to other diseases,” Williams said.

Speedy, the British executive, came to the Massachusetts pavilion to continue a conversation he had started with Martina Toponarski, a Boston Redevelopment Authority official, at a reception during last year’s BIO convention.

Since then, Speedy said, he has come back to Boston several times and his company has begun working with drug companies in the Boston area. While it is considering opening its US subsidiary in Cambridge because “it’s very easy to move about,” Speedy said he is leaning toward South Boston because “we spoke to [Mayor] Tom Menino at the reception.”

“He’s the best salesperson for Boston,” said Windham-Bannister. “We love all parts of Massachusetts. But there’s something exciting about the Innovation District. It’s a real step ahead to be there.”

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.
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