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How Massachusetts can lengthen its lead in life sciences

We must be innovative and inclusive, strengthen our partnerships, and make bold investments in all the areas that support our life sciences ecosystem.

People mingled Monday at the annual BIO International Convention held at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Five years ago, Massachusetts welcomed life sciences leaders from across the world to Boston for the annual BIO International Convention. At the time, our region was hailed as a success story in the power of public-private partnerships in support of a burgeoning life sciences economy that was the envy of mayors, governors, and entrepreneurs everywhere.

This week more than 18,000 biotech professionals are in Boston for this year’s conference, and the state has only further cemented its status as a life sciences powerhouse since the convention last rolled into town.

Since 2018, the number of life sciences employees working in Massachusetts has increased by more than 50 percent to nearly 113,000. Average annual wages have jumped to more than $200,000 per year. The amount of lab space (more than 55 million square feet of inventory) and venture capital funding (approaching $9 billion) have nearly doubled.


None of this happened by accident. It’s the result of bipartisan leadership in government (tip of the cap to former governor Deval Patrick, who authorized the first Life Sciences Initiative in 2008, former governor Charlie Baker, who built on that program 10 years later, and the Legislature) and strong collaboration with industry leaders and our world-class academic institutions and research hospitals.

But now is no time to rest on our success. To lengthen our well-earned lead in the face of fierce competition from other cities, states, and countries, we must be innovative and inclusive, strengthen our partnerships, and make bold investments in all areas that support our life sciences ecosystem.

That means reauthorizing the Life Sciences Initiative for a third time to incentivize and spur growth across the industry, paving the way for more cutting-edge research, industry and workforce development, and drug creation that can save and improve lives for patients around the world.


It also means creating and expanding workforce training programs to develop talent, bringing in skilled workers from populations underrepresented in life sciences, and expanding our dominance in R&D to biomanufacturing as well.

We are talking about scalable initiatives like MassBio’s Bioversity training center in Dorchester that will provide short and intensive programs to give those with a high school diploma the skills necessary to enter and thrive in a biotech job; the Commonwealth’s Early College and Innovation Career Pathways programs that transform the traditional high school experience; and the Commonwealth’s new MassTalent initiative to connect employers and skilled workers in high-growth industries like life sciences, clean energy, and advanced manufacturing.

Lengthening our lead also demands investments in transportation infrastructure and addressing cost-of-living challenges like housing and child care so that workers can afford to stay here and businesses can more easily recruit talent. Remaining competitive must also include tax relief centered around affordability, competitiveness, and equity, and reforms that will better align us with national norms for estate and capital gains taxes and attract and retain more businesses and residents. And it means continuing to expand the reach of life sciences to all regions of the state.

There is not a state in the country that has the unique blend of human, intellectual, and social capital that we do, nor can another state boast the collaboration that exists across government, industry, and academia. Team Massachusetts — our authentic partnership spanning the public and private sectors — recognizes that we need to act boldly and with urgency not only to maintain our lead but to extend it.


With the global life sciences community descending on Boston this week, they will not only see what we’ve built here, but they will understand that the future of patient-driven breakthroughs is made in Massachusetts.

Maura Healey is the governor of Massachusetts. Kendalle Burlin O’Connell is CEO and president of MassBio.