Gov. Deval Patrick testified Tuesday that Massachusetts was on the verge of losing its grip on a key industry if lawmakers fail to act on his 10-year, $1 billion life sciences initiative.
Patrick, testifying before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, warned that other states and countries from California to China were eyeing Massachusetts’ “unrivaled concentration of biopharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device expertise.”
Unless Massachusetts works quickly to protect the industry, the state’s status as a worldwide leader could evaporate, along with thousands of jobs and a revitalized economy, he said.
“As we gather here today, our competitors are actively luring our state’s best and brightest researchers, doctors and entrepreneurs,” Patrick warned. “The threat is real and the stakes are high.”
Patrick had expressed frustration in recent weeks with what he’s described as the slow pace of lawmakers to act on his key initiatives, like the life sciences bill.
On Tuesday he sounded less confrontational, but still urged lawmakers to act quickly.
The bill includes $500 million in capital funds to create a Massachusetts Stem Cell Bank and a research center to build on the work of Nobel Prize-winning scientist Craig Mello at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. It also includes $15 million for smaller research and business grants.
The bank would be the world’s largest repository of new stem cells lines.
Critics of Patrick’s plan, including anti-abortion activists, say the state shouldn’t invest money in embryonic stem cell research because it involves the destruction of human life at its very earliest stages.
Other critics say the money should be spread around to other industries instead of being concentrated narrowly on the biotechnology and life sciences sector.
Eileen McAnneny, with the business advocacy group Associated Industries of Massachusetts, said she’s worried some of the tax credits in the bill would skew the playing field, with some similar businesses facing different tax laws.
That’s not only unfair, but potentially unconstitutional, she said.
“It sets up a great disparity between industries,” McAnneny said. “AIM has always advocated for predictability in the tax code.”
She said the bill also gives state officials too much leeway in offering tax credits.
“Our preference is to have things spelled out,” she said.
But biotechnology supporters say the money and other investments are critical, or the state’s biotechnology edge could fizzle in the same way Massachusetts’ early leadership in the computer industry fizzled.
“More than any other industry, the life sciences require an intensive concentration of both human and monetary capital over many years,” said Joshua Boger, president and CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge.
Una Ryan, president and CEO of AVANT Immunotherapeutics in Needham, said she was able to locate her manufacturing facility in Fall River through a state-backed financing program despite offers from other states.
“This initiative will not only level the playing field with states like California and North Carolina, it will put us and should keep us in the lead,” she said.
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