KENDALLE O’CONNELL, PRESIDENT AND COO,

MASSBIO

"Despite the economic downturn and hardship caused by the pandemic, investment in biotech companies reached record-breaking levels. We had the most successful IPO year ever, with 21 biopharma companies in Massachusetts alone raising a total of US$3.9 billion."

What were the highlights of 2020 for MassBio and the Massachusetts life sciences cluster?

2020 was both a challenging and transformative year for the life sciences industry, particularly for the Massachusetts life sciences cluster. The outbreak of COVID-19 challenged us to rapidly innovate. Massachusetts led the way in developing tests, therapies, and vaccines that have helped combat the virus. More than 95 life sciences companies with a presence in Massachusetts have been involved in this effort, many of which are the small and emerging biotechs that make up the backbone of the cluster.

Despite the economic downturn and hardship caused by the pandemic, investment in biotech companies reached record-breaking levels. We had the most successful IPO year ever, with 21 biopharma companies in Massachusetts alone raising a total of US$3.9 billion.

Because of COVID-19, everyone in the world understood what it meant to live with an unmet medical need. Our industry’s ability to deliver solutions to this crisis – while continuing to develop life-saving interventions for other diseases – is extremely meaningful and serves as a testament to how passionate our employees are about science and research.

How has the strength of the Massachusetts life sciences cluster enabled progress in the fight against COVID?

One of the most unique elements of the Massachusetts cluster is the robustness of the small and emerging early-stage innovation network. Nearly two-thirds of MassBio’s 1,400+ members have less than 50 employees. From the lens of COVID-19, a significant portion of these small and emerging companies are continuing to innovate to not only address the pandemic today, but to ensure we have the tools to combat other effects of COVID-19 and any future health crises for years to come.

We are also seeing unprecedented levels of collaboration between biotech companies and large biopharma organizations, which MassBio is dedicated to facilitating. One of the first COVID-19 vaccines was borne out of a partnership, and we believe that new ways of connecting early-stage companies with established biopharma organizations will accelerate science and improve patient lives.

From a policy perspective, are the incentives still there to attract life sciences companies to Massachusetts?

Absolutely. On the heels of the 10-year, US$1 billion Life Sciences Initiative passed in 2008, Governor Baker passed a five-year extension in 2018 with over US$600 million in funding budgeted to drive continued growth of the life sciences in Massachusetts, including various incentivizes administered by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. The pipeline of startups we continue to see emerging in the cluster and joining MassBio is indicative of how desirable the cluster continues to be for the industry. Every five years, we conduct a strategic report that defines the future direction of the Massachusetts life sciences ecosystem and informs our economic development initiatives. Our most recent report, released in June of 2020, found that the lack of affordable office/lab space and efficient transportation posed a challenge to the cluster’s continued growth. At MassBio, we are focused on addressing these issues, while also looking to build capacity across the state – particularly for biomanufacturing capabilities. Another key opportunity for Massachusetts is to expand its R&D footprint beyond oncology and rare diseases. Additionally, we want to ensure that the cluster is the best place in the world for the convergence of biotech, medical devices and digital health, and we are working to focus on how Massachusetts can do more to recruit talent and drive investments in digital health. Our goal is for Massachusetts to become a one-stop-shop for the life sciences industry.

How is MassBio working to encourage tangible progress in the area of diversity and inclusion?

For the life sciences industry to realize its true potential, our workforce must represent the patient population we serve. Accordingly, we need to identify, support, and invest in diverse leaders from across the globe. However, to achieve results, we need executives and decision-makers from across the industry to commit themselves to improving ED&I in their organizations. That is why MassBio issued our Open Letter 2.0 - The CEO Pledge for a More Equitable and Inclusive Life Sciences Cluster in the summer of 2020 and called on CEOs from across the life sciences to pledge their name to a set of best practices to implement meaningful change in the industry. As of February 2021, 213 CEOs that represent the breadth of the life sciences industry have signed the pledge.

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