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Boston, 4 other localities unite on life sciences

Alliance hopes to aid, expand vital industry

Boston is banding together with Braintree, Cambridge, Quincy, and Somerville to jointly promote the region’s life sciences industry, a dramatic shift from the strategy of Thomas M. Menino, who as mayor worked to lure biotechs and other cutting-edge companies from neighboring cities.

Leaders from the five municipalities are set to gather at the Museum of Science Tuesday to formally launch the effort, called the Life Sciences Corridor initiative. They say the alliance could be a springboard to other regional partnerships in economic development, housing, and transportation, ranging from subway improvements to affordable housing for life sciences workers.

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“There’s a lot of talk about Boston operating as a silo, but it’s important that our sister cities are strong as well,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “I don’t intend on going to Cambridge and saying to companies, ‘I want you to come to Boston.’ ”

Under Menino, the city took a Boston-first approach toward businesses seeking to relocate, expand, or establish a presence in the region. When Menino learned of opposition in Cambridge to a proposed new site for Millennium Pharmaceuticals two years ago, he quickly invited the cancer drug maker to the South Boston Waterfront. Ultimately, Cambridge approved the Millennium plans.

Last year, Menino bristled at a decision by Partners HealthCare to move its administrative staff from Boston to Somerville, bypassing a parcel in Roxbury that he favored.

‘I don’t think there’s room in Cambridge for every aspect of life sciences.’

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Conversely, there was displeasure in Cambridge when Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. decided to move its headquarters to a new complex on the South Boston Waterfront.

While the new alliance does not explicitly forbid one municipality from soliciting businesses based in another, it appears to make it less likely.

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Cambridge is already home to more than 325 of the roughly 500 life sciences companies located in the five Life Sciences Corridor communities. The city — especially Kendall Square — is often considered the industry’s national hub. While Cambridge might seem to have the most to lose if other biotech and medical technology clusters grow elsewhere, City Manager Rich Rossi said regional expansion will help everyone.

“Cambridge is doing well and will continue to do well,” Rossi said. “But I don’t think there’s room in Cambridge for every aspect of life sciences. There may be some companies where the cost of the land and buildings in other communities are more within their budgets. The less we’re fighting with each other, the better for the region.”

In recent years, representatives of Boston, Cambridge, and Quincy have jointly met with officials from out-of-state and foreign companies in the Massachusetts pavilion at trade conventions held by the Biotechnology Industry Organization. That process will be formalized, and joined by Somerville and Braintree representatives, at next month’s BIO gathering in San Diego, which will be attended by businesses from around the world. The five municipalities will also market the region together at other industry events.

Business leaders say a regional approach could help attract companies with different needs. While research firms might gravitate to locations near the academic medical labs in Cambridge or Boston, for instance, businesses looking for less expensive space, more land, or manufacturing sites could consider Braintree, Quincy, or Somerville.

“Each community has certain assets and attractions,” said Quincy’s mayor, Thomas P. Koch, whose city is home to a massive distribution center for the medical device maker Boston Scientific Corp. “We have land that might not be available in more densely populated communities.”

Those involved in the Life Sciences Corridor say it can knit together disparate communities along the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Red Line that, historically, have not collaborated.

“The notion of the Red Line makes it a very interesting proposition because it’s not that easy to get into Kendall Square,” where many companies want to go to collaborate, said Glenn Batchelder, chairman of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council and founder of Civitas Therapeutics in Chelsea. “As you see Kendall Square get more and more developed, the challenge of transportation becomes more important.”

Alan Fein, executive vice president at the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard and president of the Kendall Square Association, said he hopes the regional approach can help spur Red Line improvements — such as more trains and better signaling technology — and a push to develop affordable real estate for life sciences companies.

“To be a sustainable innovation district, you have to have space that companies at each stage of the development cycle can afford, from startups to very established companies to all the companies in the middle,” Fein said. “If you don’t have affordable space for the middle companies, you won’t have the startups.”

Somerville, whose life sciences companies include Bioengineering Inc., which designs bioreactors for cultivating cells used in making protein-based drugs, is eager to attract the spillover from the Kendall Square cluster, said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.

Curtatone called the Life Sciences Corridor “an important symbolic step” in presenting Greater Boston municipalities as a single entity.

“The region extends beyond North Station and the gas tanks on the Southeast Expressway,” he said. “If you think about the Red Line from Davis Square to Braintree, we’re all part of this great region with so much talent and creativity.”

Braintree’s mayor, Joseph C. Sullivan, whose town hosts Haemonetics Corp., a maker of blood-processing technology, expects it will gain more from regional economic development than by going solo.

“We’ve all been doing our own promotional cheerleading to the business community, but you need to work with others,” Sullivan said. “No one gets anything done alone.”

Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com.

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