The gubernatorial rivals bring their campaigns to the heart of life sciences land, but their lack of specifics leaves some in the audience dissatisfied
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
Last week it was tech. This week, biotech.
The major-party candidates for governor sought to win over life-sciences professionals at a forum in Cambridge on Monday. But neither discussed specific ways they would help the growing industry that represents companies developing treatments for disease.
Republican Charlie Baker, the former chief of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, took a conversational tone, showing off his health care chops. He vowed as governor to push health care providers to share more information about the costs of medical services.
“We’re going to have a transparent marketplace when it comes to health care,” Baker said.
Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate, said her office has done “groundbreaking” work on health care costs, but talked more about her broader commitment to growing the economy by spending on infrastructure, schools, and workforce training.
“You can’t grow your jobs unless you have the workers to do them,” an upbeat Coakley told the audience, repeating refrains from the campaign trail.
Coakley made a commitment to continuing Governor Deval Patrick’s Life Sciences Initiative, a 10-year, $1 billion public program that gives grants, tax breaks, and other incentives to life sciences companies.
Baker said government can play a role in helping businesses, but he did not talk specifically about the initiative, which state officials credit with helping Massachusetts become a destination for life sciences and pharmaceutical companies. Critics say the industry would have grown without state incentives.
“This has been a great economic driver, but we need to continue it,” Coakley said.
“I think the state can play a role as a partner on this,” Baker said, “but I think the lead ought to be driven by the private investors and the product developers and the people who really understand what the opportunity looks like.”
Michael Cardone, the chief executive of Eutropics Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge maker of cancer diagnostics, was hoping for a stronger commitment from Baker.
“He was a little ambivalent,” Cardone said. “The [life sciences initiative] is terrific, and they need to continue that. If anything, they need to put more money into that.”
Baker and Coakley, locked in a tight battle to become the next governor, spoke to nearly 200 life sciences professionals at a forum sponsored by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, an industry group. They were asked the same questions but took the stage separately and were not in the audience to hear each other’s remarks.
The format was similar to the one used at an event with technology professionals last week, where the candidates failed to connect with the audience of technology experts.
The lack of specifics at Monday’s biotechnology forum again left some observers unsatisfied.
“Both were light on substance, which is a little bit surprising and worrisome because they came to a forum that represents the fastest-growing industry in the state,” said Johannes Fruehauf, cofounder and president of LabCentral, a Cambridge lab space for biotech startups.
A Northeastern University report this year said that Massachusetts has the nation’s highest concentration of jobs in biotechnology and other life sciences fields, with more than 113,000 workers.
“Look at the job creation in this sector,” Fruehauf said. “They should not see this as just one more industry . . . They should have been very well prepared coming to this place. They should be doing their homework.”
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