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Mass. Life Sciences Center chief steps down

Susan Windham-Bannister called job great honor.

Susan Windham-Bannister called job great honor.

Susan Windham-Bannister, who spearheaded $500 million of public investment in life sciences research and manufacturing, said Friday that she is resigning as chief executive of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, a quasi-public agency that promotes the state’s biotechnology and related industries.

Windham-Bannister, the founding chief executive of the center, said she always planned to leave the $285,000-a-year job around the same time Governor Deval Patrick left his. Patrick’s term ends in January, and he is not seeking reelection. She said she will remain at the Life Sciences Center until a replacement is found and help with the transition to new leadership.

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“It’s been a great honor for me,” she said in an interview. “It’s been the highlight of my career.”

A longtime consultant before she became head of the Life Sciences Center in 2008, Windham-Bannister credits the agency with helping Massachusetts become the global leader in life sciences while competing with states such as California and New York.

“By any metric they have to acknowledge that we’re number one,” Windham-Bannister said. “We know what an impact this initiative has had. We have gotten a lot of visibility not just nationally, but internationally.”

Patrick and the Legislature established the center in 2008 as part of a 10-year, $1 billion life sciences initiative. A Boston Foundation report last year said $56.6 million in tax breaks to life sciences companies between 2009 and 2011 created 2,500 jobs.

“Massachusetts invested wisely at exactly the time that it is hardest for government to invest, when things are not going well, and the life sciences responded with robust growth,” said Joshua Boger, founder and former CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., and a board member of the Life Sciences Center.

‘Massachusetts invested wisely at exactly the time that it is hardest for government to invest . . . and the life sciences responded with robust growth.’

Joshua Boger, Center board member 
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Boger described Windham-Bannister as “an unusual leader, in that she is never satisfied with ‘OK,’ ” crediting her with successful initiatives such as a paid college internship program aimed at developing and recruiting talent.

Patrick predicted the life sciences initiative would generate 250,000 jobs over 10 years, but in 2012, four years after the law was passed, only 8,750 jobs had been created, the Globe reported. Windham-Bannister said Friday the center would release updated jobs numbers in coming weeks.

The life sciences initiative has spent about half of its $1 billion allotment so far, generating another $1.5 billion in private spending, Windham-Bannister said.

Some of the money went to private companies, some to public institutions. The center’s two biggest awards went the University of Massachusetts: $90 million for a research building at UMass Medical School in Worcester and $95 million for new research facilities at UMass Amherst.

The board of the Life Sciences Center, led by Housing and Economic Development Secretary Gregory Bialecki, will choose Windham-Bannister’s replacement.

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.
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