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Walsh eyes regional approach on biotech

Mayor  Walsh spoke at a MassBio event.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Mayor Walsh spoke at a MassBio event.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, in his first address to executives from one of the city’s fastest-growing industries, said Wednesday that he would push to expand the life sciences sector in Boston but also work with other communities to fuel growth in the region.

“We are home to the best hospitals and universities,” Walsh told about 280 people jammed into the Omni Parker House ballroom for a breakfast hosted by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. “We have Vertex on the waterfront. We have Dana-Farber expanding in Longwood. And we need to continue that growth and expansion, not only in Boston, but in the region.”

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Walsh’s tone contrasted with that of his predecessor, Thomas M. Menino, known for his aggressive Boston-first posture. Two years ago, when Cambridge considered changing zoning for several parcels near Central Square to discourage development there — including a planned expansion for Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc. — the former mayor let Millennium know it would be welcome in Boston. (Cambridge officials ultimately decided to let the company’s expansion go forward.)

In his remarks at the MassBio event, the new mayor said the rapid growth of the life sciences cluster in Cambridge and other cities and towns benefits the entire region. He noted that Massachusetts startups drew about 20 percent of all US biomedical venture capital last year.

Walsh said he spoke with other mayors across the state Tuesday about “how do we regionally go out and attract businesses.” He added, “If it’s one of the other cities or towns that is able to grow its industry, it helps us all. It helps us all on the bottom line. So I’m going to work on that approach of what we can do as a region. I’m not going to look to Cambridge or Somerville to bring their businesses over here. I’m going to try to attract more businesses.”

State Senator Michael Rush (left) and MassBio president Robert Coughlin spoke with Mayor Martin Walsh Wednesday.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

State Senator Michael Rush (left) and MassBio president Robert Coughlin spoke with Mayor Martin Walsh Wednesday.

But in a brief interview before the talk, he acknowledged his primary responsibility was to create jobs in Boston. Toward that end, Walsh, who took office earlier this month, said he would seek to enlarge the Innovation District on the South Boston Waterfront — a favorite project of Menino’s — but also to attract medical device manufacturing to spur employment and economic development in lower-income neighborhoods such as Roxbury and Mattapan. Walsh said he wants to enlist Roxbury Community College in that effort.

The mayor said he has begun talking with MassBio president Robert K. Coughlin, a longtime friend and former colleague in the state Legislature, about putting together a team of business and government leaders to press the medical-gear manufacturing initiative.

“I’m ready to move forward with this partnership,” Walsh told the executives. “You certainly have my commitment to work both here in Boston and in Washington, D.C., to attract funds” for medical research at biotechs and hospitals.

Coughlin, in his introductory remarks, said Massachusetts remains the world leader in biomedical research and development, with 2 million square feet of laboratory space under construction. But he also warned that “we face competition” from states like New York and Texas, and from China, which is spending $300 billion to promote biomedical innovation.

MassBio chairman Geoff MacKay, chief executive of Canton regenerative medicine company Organogenesis Inc., said the industry faces a tougher challenge from government and private payers as state and federal government officials work to contain health costs.

“We’re making tremendous bets on science,” MacKay said. “What we need is a transparent, predictable regulatory, intellectual property, and reimbursement environment.”

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