Beantown/Genetown and Beyond: Biotechnology in Massachusetts  
9/13/2007 2:56:15 PM

By Cheryl Scott
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If the commonwealth of Massachusetts isn’t quite the birthplace of biotechnology, it can certainly claim status as the industry’s cradle. Many people do consider it the birthplace of the American Revolution, of course, because it’s where the first shots were fired against the British colonial occupiers. As BIO president and CEO Jim Greenwood put it in a keynote address at the 2006 annual meeting of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council:

I’ve spent much of the past 13 or 14 years in Washington, DC, the epicenter of power and politics. . . . Now here I stand in Boston, the epicenter of academia and science. America’s most recent revolution — the biotechnology revolution . . . not only began in Massachusetts, but it continues here every day in its universities and its commercial enterprises. . . . Massachusetts companies continue to lead. (1)

One example among many is GTC Biotherapeutics, located in the Boston suburb of Framingham. It is the first (and so far only) biotechnology company marketing an approved drug product made by transgenic animals. In fact, only one other company (Pharming Group in The Netherlands) has even submitted such a product for approval. GTC’s transgenic antithrombin product has been approved in Europe and is currently in further clinical trials with the aim of a US regulatory submission (2).
2007 Genetown

Click on the Genetown Map!
Beantown Is Genetown
Originally launched in 1993, the Genetown hotbed campaign’s eighth edition map is designed as a branding and awareness tool for life-science companies and service providers. The map displays logos and buildings of participating companies and can be downloaded at the Genetown section of Biospace, an online career site for life-science–related industries. In Genetown, you’ll also find continually updated news, events, and company profiles for the region. For more information, contact Kevin Glacken 1-732-746-2309.

Eastern Massachusetts has been the site of many of the research breakthroughs driving the advancement of biotechnology, including five discoveries that have earned Nobel prizes (3). The density of ivy-league and other research and teaching institutions has inevitably led to a density of both start-up and veteran companies, including two of the country’s first and most successful biotech corporations: Biogen Idec, Inc. and Genzyme General, both headquartered in Cambridge, MA, which is widely recognized as the center of a major biotech hub. More than 100 Massachusetts companies are Biotechnology Industry Organization members, with a third of them employing more than 100 people. Among 13 local colleges granting life-science doctorate degrees, three are ranked in the national top 20 for that area of study — and nearly $1.5 billion of US National Institutes of Health funding finds its way to the area every year (3). Since 1995, the region has attracted some $2 billion in biotechnology venture capital investment (3). Lifescience vendor companies Charles River Laboratories and Millipore Corporation are counted among the top public employers in the region (4).

In addition to its place in biotech history (see the “Historical Timeline” box), Massachusetts is regularly listed in top-10s ranking locations for biotechnology growth potential. One article ranked the state first in the United States for the number of research parks, fifth in number of bioscience facilities, 10th in the number of biotech incubators, eighth in life sciences R&D expenditures, and seventh for the number of biological scientists in its workforce (5). In 2005, the state invested $90 million in a Biomedical Research Institute, a joint project of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Bay State Medical Center. In 2007, governor Deval Patrick announced a 10-year, billion-dollar plan to encourage further growth of the state’s biotech sector (6, 7). The money — $100 million a year — will be aimed at several programs, some most notably targeting stem cell and RNAi research. On that news, some Massachusetts life scientists are questioning whether research grants will be the best way for the state to spend life-science dollars (6). Other priorities might include facility issues, transportation and commutes, and educating high school students about the industry.


Founded in 1985, the nonprofit Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MBC) represents >500 companies and institutions. It organizes events and provides information and services to the region’s biotech industry. Its successful annual investor conference, “Mass Opportunities,” has been held every autumn since 1999. Several ongoing committees meet regularly at seminars and networking sessions to discuss issues of import to the industry: biostatistics and data management; business development; clinical trials; drug discovery; finance; formulation and drug delivery; human resources; law and policy; life-science informatics; marketing and communications; process development; project management; quality/regulatory affairs; safety, environmental, and facility operations; and technologies. More information on these committees — including downloadable presentations and event notifications — can be found online at

Of particular importance to the MBC have been several state legislative initiatives. Working to promote and protect the interests of its members, the organization pursues a new comprehensive public policy agenda during each state legislative session. For the 2005–2006 session, the MBC was able to meet most of its policy goals. The general focus was on economic development and support for life sciences — specifically, expedited landuse permitting, science education, and protection of access to new innovative medicines. More information can be found online at lawpol/Legislation/index.php.

In August 2007, the MBC announced that it had hired Bob Coughlin, Massachusetts undersecretary for business development and a veteran state legislator, as its new president (8). He was chosen not only for his business and political skills, but also for his knowledge of the biotech industry.


The MBC is concerned not only with touting the accomplishments of its local industry, encouraging investment, and advancing public policy — but also working with public leaders to promote science education. Many in the industry today are concerned about where its future employees will come from. Massachusetts’ biotech companies don’t just hire scientists. The state’s biotechnology workforce includes people with high school, two-year, four-year, and advanced graduate degrees and backgrounds in science, business, law, manufacturing, and engineering (9). According to the MBC, the greatest job growth areas are research, manufacturing, quality, and clinical/regulatory affairs. But biotech companies also need facilities technicians, glass washers, shipping and receiving clerks, and security guards. Nonscience opportunities can also be found in business development, corporate administration and finance, human resources, information technology, sales, and marketing and communications. The MBC website includes sections on education and careers, as well as a directory of local biotechnology companies, career paths, and schools.

Another form of education for which interest is growing is the focus on biotechnology in business schools. Programs such as MIT’s Biomedical Enterprise Program (a joint collaboration between its Sloan School of Management and the Harvard– MIT division of health sciences and technology) serve postdoctoral students and help industry scientists switch gear to management relatively early in their careers (10). That particular program accepts only people with substantial work experience, but it’s gaining interest from undergraduates as well.


According to a 2002 report by the MBC, life science industries have the potential to become a true cornerstone of the Massachusetts economy. The report encouraged the state’s political, commercial, and academic leaders to capitalize on the advantages that are already in place. “If they can find a way to do so,” it declared, “the rewards for the Commonwealth could be substantial. They could well make the difference between a state that is enjoying a sustained period of strong economic growth and one that is merely limping along. The difference in tax revenues would be sizable. Perhaps most valuable, the Commonwealth could continue its honorable tradition of being on the leading edge of technology, science, and health care, and of producing enterprises of which its citizens are justifiably proud” (11).

The MBC created committees to focus on those goals regarding nine general topics: business climate and infrastructure, financing, workforce development and education, healthcare integration, biodefense, framework for innovation, tax, legal, and regulatory affairs. Each team was made up of several experts representing biotech companies, academic medical centers, institutions of higher education, health-care providers, service organizations, and public agencies. They developed some 100 policy recommendations such as

• investing in research and improving technology transfer

• increasing the physical infrastructure and easing the process of starting up new companies

• encouraging private investment and improving existing state tax incentives

• increasing science exposure for all Massachusetts students

• rewarding innovation and enabling patient access to new technologies

• developing biodefense regulations and funding, encouraging diversification and strengthening public support, and

• reforming tort law.

Many of these recommendations have since been put into practice. The governor’s recently proposed lifesciences legislation package includes capital and investment funds, tax incentives, and expansion of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

“We want Massachusetts to provide the global platform for bringing innovation from the drawing board to the market, from inspiration to commercialization, and from ideas to cure,” Governor Patrick said. “We look forward to working with the legislature on speedy passage and to bringing to life our vision for expanding the commonwealth’s global leadership in the life sciences.”

The commonwealth of Massachusetts is clearly committed to a life-sciences future. As any leaderof- the-pack well knows, everyone else is jockeying for your position. And as any successful revolutionary knows, there’s no use in merely congratulating yourself. The people of Massachusetts — especially those involved in biotechnology — have their eyes focused on the future. And if the past is any indication, this is one biotech hub that will be in the news for a long time to come.


1 Greenwood J. Keynote Address to Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. Biotechnology Industry Organization: Washington, DC, 15 June 2006; http://bio. org/speeches/speeches/20060615.asp?p=yes.

2 Pollack A. Initial Benefit from Genetic Engineering Likely to Be Medicine. The New York Times 30 July 2007; www.nytimes. com/2007/07/30/business/30animalside. html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx= 1185805836-jDThp7Ybcru3SjzgAP+81g.

3 The Brookings Institution. Profile of Biomedical Research and Biotechnology Commercialization: Boston–Worcester–Lawrence Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area, 10 June 2002: publications/biotechboston.pdf.

4 Industry Profile: Biotechnology; www.

5 2005 Rankings Report: Top States for Biotech Growth. Business Facilities Magazine; ranking2.asp.

6 Robinson K. Deval’s Big Biotech Play. Omics! Omics! 9 May 2007; http://omicsomics. html.

7 Heuser S. State’s Billion-Dollar Biotech Question: Who Gets How Much? The Boston Globe 20 June 2007; business/technology/biotechnology/ articles/2007/06/20/states_billion_dollar_ biotech_question_who_gets_how_much.

8 Hollmer M. Coughlin To Become Next Mass. Biotech Council Chief. Boston Business J. 13 August 2007; http://boston.bizjournals. com/boston/stories/2007/08/13/daily6.html

9 Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. Biotechnology: A Guide to the Most Innovative Industry in Massachusetts. The Boston Globe Spring 2002; globe_spring_02.pdf.

10 Gewin V. Special Report: Making It in the Biotech Business. Nature 435, May 2005: 124–125; v435/n7038/full/nj7038-124a.html#top.

11 The Boston Consulting Group. MassBiotech 2010: Achieving Global Leadership in the Life-Sciences Economy. Massachusetts Biotechnology Council: 2002; MassBioTech2010Report.pdf.

12 Heinz School. Bio Rising: Venture Firms Rediscover Biotech. Carnegie Mellon University: Pittsburgh, PA, September 2002; www.


Annual Report 2002. Massachusetts Biotechnology Council: 2002; pubs/2002AR.pdf.

Johnson C. The History of Biotechnology. The Boston Globe, 2007: business/specials/bio2007/articles/biotech_ timeline.

Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. Biotechnology: A Guide to Understanding Investments That Make a Difference. The Boston Globe Fall 2002; globe_fall_02.pdf.

Massachusetts Biotechnology Industry Directory;

Massachusetts Biotechnology Council Safety, Environmental Affairs, and Facilities Committee. Biotechnology Regulatory Guide for Communities. July 1995, rev. September 1998;

Cheryl Scott is senior technical editor of BioProcess International, 1574 Coburg Road, #242, Eugene, OR 97401-4802; 1-646- 957-8879;

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