Long-Tenured MassBio CEO Robert Coughlin Steps Down, Extols Industry's Accelerated Growth

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Robert Coughlin announced in an open letter on Monday that he is leaving the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) following a 13-year tenure as the organization’s president and chief executive officer (CEO).

MassBio, a not-for-profit organization providing services and support for life sciences companies in Massachusetts, was founded in 1985. The organization offers its life sciences and healthcare members a swath of services, including professional development, networking opportunities, advocacy at the state and federal level and rewards programs.

Coughlin said the decision to step away from MassBio “was extremely difficult” to make, but he emphasized the company is set up for success in the coming years, due to the industry’s accelerated growth in Massachusetts. In his letter, Coughlin wrote that the company has over 1,4000 member companies across the life sciences industry, a massive increase from the initial 400 member companies partnered with MassBio at the time of Coughlin’s start at the company.

During his time at MassBio, Coughlin oversaw the generation of up to $1.15 billion in savings for the company’s members through the MassBio Edge purchasing program. He also listed the company’s development of the “impactful state and federal advocacy program” as well as the increased offerings in equity, diversity and inclusion. Over the past 13 years, MassBio also improved its professional development and networking events, making membership with the company “more valuable than ever,” Coughlin wrote. “I have cherished my time at MassBio and am proud of the work we’ve done together.”

“The Massachusetts life sciences cluster has gone from one of the best places in the world for our industry to the best because of our unique partnership between industry, academia, and government,” Coughlin said. “We’ve gone from having only a few of the big biopharma companies with a physical presence here to having 18 of the top 20 companies with offices, R&D facilities and more statewide.”

Additionally, employment within the industry grew by approximately 94% in the last 15 years, he added, which has provided more than 38,000 new jobs to the Massachusetts economy.

“Perhaps most importantly, investment in early-stage R&D via our research institutions and start-up and emerging stage biopharmas has exploded with NIH and VC funding for our industry among the highest in our country,” said Coughlin. “External partnering and IPOs from Massachusetts companies remain the rocket fuel that keeps our cluster on top and powers breakthrough cures and therapies.”

Coughlin, whose son was born with cystic fibrosis five years before he started at MassBio, said his role at the organization was very personal to him.

“Because of decades of work and billions of dollars invested by a Massachusetts company, a drug was recently approved that has made my son healthier,” he said. “Today, I can confidently say that he’ll outlive me. This was not something I could have said a few years ago.”

Following Coughlin’s departure from MassBio, which is set for some time in early 2021, the company’s current chief operating officer (COO), Kendalle Burlin O’Connell, will assume the dual roles of president and COO. The company’s current vice president of public affairs, Zach Stanley, has also been promoted to executive vice president. O’Connell and Stanley, in conjunction with Kristine Kelly, MassBio’s VP of Administration & Finance, will lead the company forward in 2021. During this time, there will be a nationwide search for a new CEO.

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