Commentary: Here’s what Mass. needs to develop great science

By Kevin Sheehan | Sandhya Iyer
June 4, 2023

Across the world, Massachusetts has a well-earned reputation as an epicenter for major innovations in life science. Boston and Cambridge are home to world class universities and hospitals that regularly produce revolutionary breakthroughs in science and technology. As the life science industry continues to advance, a team-based approach will keep our state at the forefront of an innovation sector that will improve human health, create valuable jobs, and drive economic development.

Municipalities and developers must work together with life science companies to position our state for continued economic success, including cities and towns outside of Boston and Cambridge. Together with our state leaders and industry partners, we can provide the key ingredients that innovative companies need to develop great science: capital, talent and space.

All of these ingredients exist in Kendall Square, home to globally renowned brands like Moderna and Pfizer, the top two universities in the country for life science degrees, and the largest and densest cluster of life science space in the world. However, other communities in our commonwealth are also a part of this ecosystem — in fact, Route 128 West, anchored by Lexington and Waltham, is currently the largest submarket for lab space in greater Boston, outside of East Cambridge.

From our shared perspective, here are the factors that support a successful statewide ecosystem for the continued growth and development of the life science and innovation economy infrastructure.

Recognize the diverse capital needs of life science companies: Massachusetts is home to both entrepreneurial young companies with untested innovations that have not yet received FDA approvals and well-established companies with multiple drugs or devices in production and several in the pipeline. Supporting a variety of capital investments across the risk spectrum and life cycle of these companies will help perpetuate the life science revolution and provide the best long-term benefits for our state. These investments should include sector-specific grants and region-specific capital programs by identifying the different needs of a region.

Create more housing opportunities to attract and retain talent: The race for talent continues to be a primary issue for all life science companies. R&D focused companies need both employees with advanced degrees and lab techs and other trained personnel with more diverse backgrounds. Locations that offer more housing options, are in or accessible to the region’s gateway cities, and link to community colleges can be attractive to such workers. In tandem with addressing housing, a high functioning public transit infrastructure creates access to a greater talent pool.

Build healthy and sustainable space for research and manufacturing: Life science work requires specialized space needs that will continue to evolve and change.  Massachusetts communities can work with companies and developers to design projects that include sustainable features such as solar panels and high-efficiency mechanical systems, and attractive amenities including connections to green and open space, as well as access to local restaurants, retailers, and other service businesses. Encourage a sustainable ecosystem — including sustainable infrastructure — that supports the local economy with the growth of the life sciences development in a community.

Finally, a shared commitment to the many communities across Massachusetts as part of a larger innovation hub, via partnerships with life science employers, a strong business infrastructure (workforce training programs, higher education institutions, and state funding grants), and an open-door policy to connect new businesses with municipal officials can all create a collaborative environment.

At a time when Team Massachusetts has a lot of competition for our slot as the leading life sciences player, we are fortunate to have a deep bench of communities and partners that can contribute to our continued economic success.

Sandhya Iyer is the Economic Development Director for the town of Lexington, and Kevin Sheehan is the co-founder of Greatland Realty Partners, owner and developer of Lexington Labs and Revolution Labs in Lexington.


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