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Baker to unveil $500 million life sciences initiative

Governor Charlie Baker. Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/File

Governor Charlie Baker will ask lawmakers to approve a five-year, $500 million life sciences initiative that extends the state’s decade-long commitment to the biotech and medical technology industry, administration officials said Monday.

The proposal, which will be formally unveiled this week at a biotechnology convention in San Diego, includes up to $295 million in capital spending and up to $150 million in tax incentives for companies that create jobs. The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center will continue to manage the funding, administration officials said.

Baker said Monday he plans a more intensive focus on job training and career development, and less emphasis on “brick-and-mortar” spending, than existed in the first 10 years of the life sciences push, which launched in 2008 under then-Governor Deval Patrick.


“A lot of the money that went into the first set of investments associated with this really built a lot of capacity,” Baker told reporters Monday. “This is going to be a lot more about more targeted pursuit of enhancing the workforce here in Massachusetts.”

While many in industry and state government were expecting Baker to continue the funding to attract biotech and medtech companies, especially when such rival states as New York were stepping up recruitment, few expected his administration to continue Patrick’s level of funding. The state faces a significant budget gap.

Over the past decade, Massachusetts has emerged as a global hub for life sciences research and development, home to nearly 1,000 companies and academic labs employing about 68,000 workers. But other states and countries, from New York to China, have been working to woo many of the same biotech and medical technology businesses that have gravitated here.

Baker’s move comes less than three months after he signaled at a meeting of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council that he would continue support for the industry — in what business leaders are calling “Life Sciences Initiative 2.0” — once the current 10-year, $1 billion initiative launched under Patrick expires at the end of the next fiscal year.


“The life sciences industry is thrilled to see the level of commitment continue,” said Bob Coughlin, president of the industry trade group MassBio, which runs the state’s pavilion at the 2017 BIO International Convention. “It’s clear that the Baker-Polito administration understands this is something that creates jobs and is positive for tax revenue but also helps solve the medical needs of sick people.”

Travis McCready, president of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which decides what projects and companies to support financially, said Baker’s plan demonstrates “how we can continue to lead” in the industry. “Folks may have had questions, but he’s shown nothing but support for the industry from the beginning,” McCready said.

In March, the governor told MassBio that the new plan will seek to create more internships and apprenticeship programs to get students ready to work in life sciences. He said it would also provide the financial “stitching” in forging research alliances between companies and scientists, while seeking to build collaboration between data crunchers and drug and device makers to hasten development of treatments.

Industry leaders have also pressed for greater state support for biomanufacturing, which could provide jobs for less educated employees, and for spreading the industry beyond its large clusters in Cambridge and Route 128 into other parts of the state.

As the industry expands beyond its hub in Cambridge, the state’s backing becomes even more important, said David Lucchino, chief executive of biotech startup Frequency Therapeutics in Woburn and vice chairman of MassBio.


“This is a nod to the fact that Massachusetts is the center of the life sciences, and it’s not just contained in Kendall Square,” said Lucchino. “This impacts all the citizens of Massachusetts, starting with the patients and continuing with the graduates who are hired.”

This will be the first BIO convention Baker is attending. His absence at the BIO conventions in San Francisco last year and in Philadelphia in 2015 were noted by some in the state biotech community.

Baker started out early in his governorship weighing a plan to merge the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center into an uber-economic development agency but backed off under pressure from industry leaders.

The four-day conference is expected to draw officials from more than 25 countries. According to his office, Baker will be there Tuesday through Thursday, during which he’ll visit a San Diego research site of the Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals and meet with Cisco executives. On Wednesday, Baker will address the gathering and invite guests to next year’s conference — which will be held in Boston.

“I’m mostly going to be what I would describe as talking to businesses and other organizations out there about the benefits of locating and operating here in the Commonwealth of Mass.,” Baker told reporters. “I don’t get out of town very often. BIO is a big opportunity for us to talk about the great stuff that’s going on here.”


The trip will take Baker to a state that frequently competes with Massachusetts for life sciences business. California is also a verdant political fund-raising venue, where Baker’s brand of middle-of-the-road Republicanism has flourished.

Asked Monday after his regular meeting with State House leaders whether he planned to raise campaign finance funds while in California, Baker said he did not. Later, aides said that Baker had misspoken and will, in fact, attend at least one fund-raiser.

According to a copy of the invitation obtained by the Globe, Baker will headline a private dinner at the Los Angeles residence of Jeffrey D. Markley, CEO of the Markley Group, a Boston-based telecommunications and data center facility.

Patrick announced his 10-year, $1 billion life sciences initiative at an earlier BIO convention and attended most of the BIO conventions during his tenure. The initiative includes capital improvement grants, loans, and tax incentives to woo companies to locate or expand in Massachusetts.

Two of the largest grants under Patrick’s initiative went to the University of Massachusetts, including $95 million to build a life sciences laboratory building at UMass Amherst and $90 million to help bankroll a research building at UMass Medical School in Worcester.

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JOSreports. Robert Weisman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.