Show me the manufacturing!


The biotech industry has political clout.

Certainly this is true of any industry that has cash to donate to lobbying groups and political campaigns, and has long been the case for the growing number of deep-pocket biotechnology and biopharmaceutical firms. But, now, the political clout of the biopharm industry extends well beyond a few well-placed campaign donations. Today, the biopharm industry potentially holds major sway over the very economic futures of municipalities, states, regions, and even countries. Presently, having clearly emerged from a purely research-centric industry to one that represents major manufacturing operations and all the support services and infrastructure associated with those, the biopharm industry speaks the common mantra of all government representatives and politicians-jobs.

This was certainly clear at a recent Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MBC) function, which attracted all four of the state’s gubernatorial candidates to an unabashed opportunity to convince and cajole the biotech community of their total and unflagging commitment and support of biotechnology industry growth in the state. This is, of course, a popular Kabuki dance being performed all over the country and the world.

At the MBC meeting, each candidate took the opportunity to campaign on general political themes or biotech-related concerns as they saw fit, but all were then questioned by a panel of biotech industry representatives on subjects of major and specific concern to the firms. Beyond the questions of price controls, re-importation, and ethical concerns surrounding stem cell research (irregardless of why and how those became state and local issues, as well as national debating points), there was no variance in response as to how strongly each candidate will work toward providing major support and investment for all things biotech, if elected.

Principal among the promises was increased public spending on initiatives supporting new biotech investment, such as improved infrastructure services and reduced costs of doing business (i.e. tax incentives). This was tied directly into major reform of existing lengthy and cumbersome building/construction permitting processes, and the promise of special high-level government personnel and budget resources providing personalized attention and services to pave the way for biotech firms to invest or expand in the state. In other words, it’s pretty much what every state, region, and country is promising.

To her credit, candidate and current Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey actually hit the nail squarely on the head when she addressed the goal of “keeping manufacturing in the state.” Massachusetts, like other states and regions, already has substantial biopharm investment in research and development facilities, and this will likely continue at some level. The question is, where will all the fruits of this labor be manufactured-specifically, where will all the “new” jobs and truly economy-impacting investment be made? Certainly this includes innumerable jobs and business opportunities specific to the contamination-control community.

It’s no trivial distinction. How much public money has been spent at all government levels over the years in support of companies and industries, only to see them close their factory doors and move elsewhere? There’s no debate that public funding in support of biopharm industry investment is money incredibly well spent. But, this is only the case if that money is returned to the people who provided it through jobs and economic growth. Strategic, strong, and long-term commitments must be made on both sides to ensure each of continuing, stable business and economic benefit. Taxpayers should not only expect, but demand, that they also receive a return on their investment.

John Haystead
Editor in Chief