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A bid to make Mass. hub of digital health world

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A cell phone and needle were seen during a demonstration of the digital health initiative.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Political and business leaders on Thursday launched a partnership to create a digital health care hub in Massachusetts, in the hopes of cornering an estimated $32 billion market.

The goal is to create an environment that will foster and attract companies which use information technology to improve health care, from electronic health records to wearable monitoring devices to software that tracks and crunches huge amounts of patient data.

"This is a very big opportunity for everyone who wants to see better health care," Governor Charlie Baker said at an event launching the initiative at Boston Children's Hospital. "We think it's a tremendous opportunity for Massachusetts."


The effort by Baker's administration and the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, a group of chief executives seeking to promote economic growth in the state, will establish an accelerator space in Boston where early-stage digital health care companies can work, meet investors, and seek advice for commercializing their ideas. The location of the accelerator has yet to be determined.

The facility, to be run by MassChallenge, a nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs, will get $250,000 in seed money from the state.

Leaders of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership said they plan to help fund digital health companies that want to set up in the state or move here but did not provide details. The business leaders said they also will help startups by drafting standard licensing agreements that entrepreneurs can use to do business with the region's many universities. Such contracts can be costly and time-consuming for small startups to develop from scratch.

Dr. Jeffrey Leiden, chief executive of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a Boston drugmaker, and one of the leaders of the digital health initiative, compared the effort to the one that helped grow the biotech and life sciences industries in Massachusetts. Over the last several years, Massachusetts has cemented its place as a world leader in life sciences, and drug developers big and small continue to flock here.


But the life sciences initiative, launched by then-governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, also had a commitment of $1 billion in state funding. Baker, a Republican, has eschewed heavy spending that favors a particular industry and told reporters Thursday that the state's biggest role in digital health would be to convene and help businesses, hospitals, and universities to work together.

The governor said he would ask lawmakers to approve some funding for the digital health initiative as part of a broader economic development plan, but he declined to say how much. "The big money," he said, would come from the private sector.

The digital health care industry already includes about 250 companies in Massachusetts, according to state officials, with employers such as athenahealth Inc. of Watertown, eClinicalWorks LLC of Westborough, Optum Inc. in Cambridge, and Philips Healthcare in Andover. IBM Corp. is moving the headquarters of its health care data analytics business to Cambridge.

Jacqueline Thong is the cofounder and chief executive of one of the smallest and newest companies in the field. Her firm, Boston-based Klio Health, uses Web and mobile technology to help patients with chronic conditions track symptoms and treatments.

Thong said the state's initiative will help entrepreneurs like her, even though it has yet to offer significant funding to the industry.

"We are all waiting for the funding announcement," Thong said, "but having everybody come together and voice their commitment is important."


Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal. Deirdre Fernandes can be reached Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe