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Life sciences chief hopes for continuation of 2008 law


By Andy Metzger


STATE HOUSE — With her successor set to be selected by the end of the year, outgoing Massachusetts Life Sciences Center President Susan Windham-Bannister said she hopes the “strong legacy” of the program encouraging life science development in Massachusetts would be “carried forward by the next administration and the Legislature.”

The Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick created the center to oversee a 10-year $1 billion life sciences law passed in 2008, and since then the center has invested or committed more than $535 million, leveraging more than $1.7 billion in third-party investments, according to the MLSC.

“At the end of the 10 years, the whole initiative would have to be recapitalized,” said Windham-Bannister, who said the center had “demonstrated” its success bringing biotech giants to the state, which already had its homegrown crop of biotech companies.

Windham-Bannister discussed plans to leave the post in May, and Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki, who is a member of the MLSC Board, said the board is hoping to find someone by the end of the year.

A former development attorney, Bialecki is on a search committee with Lydia Villa-Komaroff, a co-founder of cell-sorting company Cyntonome, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute President Edward Benz. The board has contracted the search firm Russell Reynolds, which would receive $100,000 or one-third of the next president’s starting salary, whichever is greater. Windham-Bannister has had the same $285,000 annual salary since taking the post, according to the administration.

Bialecki and a Housing and Economic Development spokesman Matt Sheaff were mum on how many people have applied for the position, and said there is a rolling application process without a deadline. Windham-Bannister is not involved in selecting her successor.

Before becoming the first MLSC president Windham-Bannister co-founded the consulting firm Abt Bio-Pharma Solutions. A job listing posted at the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council said a candidate would need experience dealing with government and the media, and have “demonstrated excellence managing a funding-based organization in academia, government or industry, ideally in a multi-disciplinary environment.”

While some seats are designated for officials holding certain positions within government, the governor is the appointing authority for the MLSC board members. Gov. Deval Patrick will be stepping down after eight years in January.

The search committee would bring one or more finalists before the board, according to Sheaff.

After an MLSC meeting Tuesday, Windham-Bannister told the News Service that continued investment in the center would be crucial, and the center should keep on the course that has helped spur development by global biotech companies.

A Pioneer Institute study released in June concluded the $1 billion 2008 life sciences law created only 571 direct life sciences jobs since tax credits started in 2009, an analysis that was disputed by Windham-Bannister and other officials.

A June study by the Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy found the life sciences sector employed 113,678 people in 2012, making Massachusetts the state with the highest per capita life sciences employment.

“We need to stay the course, because there’s huge competition,” said Windham-Bannister. She called the competition in the U.S. and internationally “steep.”

The center’s loan program has increased its loan limits from $500,000 to $1 million, and it is getting ready to roll out on Nov. 7 a new program to provide smaller grants of $50,000 to $200,000 to companies at earlier stages.

Those grants would be riskier because the companies are at earlier stages, Windham-Bannister said.

Windham-Bannister said larger players in the industry have contributed to the MLSC’s programs because they are finding “the next generation of promising technology more often than not outside of their own laboratories.”

Those companies could look to license the new technologies or acquire the startups, Windham-Bannister said. The board has authorized $8 million in funding, which could go either to the smaller grant program or a round of the larger loans.

The center also provides tax incentives as well as capital funding for non-profits, and receives funding through surplus funds.

“We need this funding to do our work and we need the funding to keep up with our opportunities,” Windham-Bannister said.

MLSC provided five-year loans to 28 companies and eight have pre-paid the loans, while two companies have since shut down: Aura Med Systems and Spectra Analysis. The loans have 10 percent interest rates, and MLSC receives an observational seat on the boards that received loans.

“We have replenished the funds and then some,” said Windham-Bannister.

Michael Norton contributed reporting.