State Senator Joseph Boncore is a leading candidate to run the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, the trade group for the state’s booming biotech industry, according to an official close to the Winthrop Democrat.
If the influential nonprofit group’s board of directors approves his appointment, he would succeed Robert Coughlin, another well-connected former state lawmaker who served as president and chief executive of MassBio for 13 years until leaving for another job early this year.
Boncore, 39, still has more interviews for the leadership job, according to another person familiar the hiring process. He also has to file a statement with the Senate clerk disclosing that he’s in the running for the job and would need to recuse himself from legislative business that MassBio might have before the Senate.
Kendalle Burlin O’Connell, president and chief operating officer of MassBio, said in a statement Friday, ”Our CEO search is ongoing and we don’t have any further comment at this time.”
Boncore did not return repeated calls for comment. His potential appointment was first reported Thursday by Politico.
Boncore, who joined the Senate in 2016 after winning a special election, is Senate chair of the Legislature’s joint Transportation Committee and Senate chair of the Massachusetts Biotech Caucus. He has advocated modernizing the MBTA, including replacing aging Silver Line buses with electric buses to reduce pollution, particularly in communities like Chelsea and East Boston.
He is a graduate of Providence College and the Massachusetts School of Law and worked as a public defender before joining his family’s law practice.
If appointed, it’s unclear whether Boncore would get Coughlin’s title of CEO and president, given that O’Connell currently holds the latter title.
As the public face of the state’s high-flying biopharma industry, the head of MassBio has traditionally been well paid. Coughlin’s total compensation package in 2018, including retirement benefits and deferred compensation, exceeded $1.1 million, according to the most recent available federal tax documents.
Coughlin, who served seven months in the administration of former governor Deval Patrick immediately before joining MassBio, left the lobbying group in early 2021 to join real estate brokerage firm JLL as managing director in its life sciences industry.
Boncore would be the latest in a series of former legislators to lead MassBio. Coughlin, a former Dedham lawmaker, succeeded former Massachusetts House speaker Thomas Finneran, who stepped aside after agreeing to plead guilty to obstruction of justice, in 2007.
MassBio was founded in 1985 and lobbies on behalf of the state’s biopharma sector, one of the most robust in the world. Eighteen of the top 20 biopharmaceutical companies have a presence in the state, including Pfizer, which last December got the US Food and Drug Administration to authorize the first COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. A week later, drug regulators cleared the second such vaccine, which was developed by Cambridge-based Moderna.
Despite the pandemic, the state’s biopharma hub had its best year ever in 2020 for venture capital investment. Firms raised $5.8 billion, surpassing 2018′s previous record high of $4.8 billion, according to MassBio.
Although Boncore has emerged as a leader on transportation issues at the State House, and even flirted in 2018 with running for Suffolk County district attorney, his political career has not been without controversy. He ran for his senate seat as a political newcomer in 2016 while being sued for colliding with a police cruiser in East Boston five years earlier after a night during which he drank alcohol.
Boncore, who said he had two drinks before the crash, was found not guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol by a Boston jury in 2012. But the officer whose cruiser was hit, Fred Lane, sued him for injuries, alleging negligence.
Both sides settled the case out of court in 2016, a few days before the trial was to start, according to court records and Lane’s attorney, Scott Goldberg, of Lexington.