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Robert Coughlin, head of MassBio trade group, stepping down after 13 years

Robert Coughlin with his son, Bobby Coughlin, in December 2018.Jonathan Wiggs

Robert Coughlin, the president and chief executive of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, will step down from his role in early 2021 after more than 13 years leading the industry trade group.

Coughlin, a former state representative from Dedham, announced the news Monday morning on the MassBio website.

“This decision was extremely difficult,” he wrote. “But I made it knowing that MassBio is well-positioned to succeed in the coming years, and that the organization will attract an amazing selection of candidates from diverse backgrounds and experiences to lead it into the future.”

MassBio was founded in 1985 as a not-for-profit organization focused on advancing the state’s life sciences industry.


Since Coughlin took the reins as chief executive in 2007, Coughlin said MassBio has expanded its member base from about 400 companies to over 1,400. Those companies have contributed to a 94 percent increase in industry employment over the last 15 years, or about 38,000 new jobs, he said.

Coughlin added that 18 of the top 20 biopharmaceutical companies now have a physical presence in the state. Both Moderna and Pfizer, the front-runners in rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine, have a strong presence in Massachusetts.

Chuck Wilson, the chair of MassBio’s board of directors, said in a press release that Coughlin “has changed the model of what a state trade association is and what it can accomplish.”

Prior to joining MassBio, Coughlin served in former governor Deval Patrick’s administration for seven months. His entrance into the biotech world was personal: His son, Bobby, was born 18 years ago with cystic fibrosis. Last year, Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals won Food and Drug Administration approval for a drug that can treat 90 percent of patients with the disease.

“I’ve seen firsthand the power of the Massachusetts cluster,” Coughlin wrote. “Because of decades of work and billions of dollars invested by a Massachusetts company, a drug was recently approved that has made my son healthier. Today, I can confidently say that he’ll outlive me. This was not something I could have said a few years ago.”


Several industry leaders thanked Coughlin for his work at MassBio via Twitter on Monday, replying to his post about the coming departure.

Tim Murray, the president of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, credited Coughlin for being a strong advocate for the life sciences and bio manufacturing sector in Central Massachusetts. Lexington-based Translate Bio chimed in on Twitter, too, wishing Coughlin “the very best in [his] future endeavors.”

A board-level committee at MassBio, chaired by Wilson, will work with an executive search firm to conduct a nationwide search for a new chief executive.

In his parting note, Coughlin said ”there is never a perfect time to leave” for a chief executive.

“I will miss my colleagues, my interaction with members, my advocacy work at the State House and Capitol Hill, and most of all, I will miss leading an organization with the critical mission of growing the life sciences industry, adding value to the healthcare system, and improving patient lives,” he wrote.

Anissa Gardizy can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism.