Massachusetts is known throughout the world as a leader for its support of innovation across the spectrum. From major academic medical institutions and renowned hospitals to biotechnology startups, the region is a center of sophisticated scientific talent. Massachusetts sets the bar high when it comes to the biopharmaceutical industry investment, and hubs based in the Commonwealth help support some of today’s most advanced medical research.
This didn’t happen by accident. The very existence of Massachusetts as a life-sciences hub is the result of intentional work done by various stakeholders, including venture capital managers, who constructed an environment to encourage and reward impactful research and development. For these reasons, America’s biopharmaceutical companies have chosen to invest heavily in Massachusetts, and today, the biopharmaceutical industry supports more than 300,000 jobs and more than $79 billion in economic output across the Bay state’s economy.
“When I first came to Boston 20 years ago, the biotech industry was just getting up and running,” says Dr. Emma Lees, vice president of oncology discovery and head of R&D at Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Cambridge facility (BMS). “When I came back to the area four years ago, the density and critical mass of biotech and medical research was absolutely astounding. You couldn’t find a more amazing place to be.”
Dr. Lees is part of a team at BMS’ new biopharma research center in Cambridge, which opened last year in Kendall Square—often called the “most innovative square mile” due to the density of leading biopharmaceutical companies in the area. The BMS facility convenes and equips scientists to research immunotherapy treatments, a new type of therapy that utilizes the body’s immune system to fight disease.
While immunotherapy has incredible promise, some patients do not respond to these treatments as well as others. The researchers at BMS' Cambridge location are working to understand how to overcome this resistance, says Dr. Sharon Cload, vice president of molecular discovery technologies at BMS. By investigating the earliest stages of drug discovery, Dr. Cload and her colleagues are laying the foundation for solutions that can hopefully continue to improve immunotherapy therapies.
According to Michaela Bowden, director of translational research at BMS, Boston—and Cambridge in particular—is special for its ability to support this type of work.
“Being in Cambridge allows us to share knowledge and findings with key leaders and innovation partners here to drive the science forward,” she says.
Breakthroughs Worth Protecting
To ensure the success of these and future efforts, today’s innovation must be protected. In the same way the Massachusetts ecosystem did not develop by accident, it cannot continue without committed support from all stakeholders. It will take intentional, collaborative efforts from policymakers, industry leaders, institutional researchers and patients to ensure Massachusetts’ capacity for innovation not only thrives but continues to grow in size and scope.
“It’s absolutely critical that we invest in these different areas of research,” says Dr. Lees. “You never know where the next discovery is going to come from and how it’s going to impact patient lives.”
Dr. Cload expresses a similar idea, noting “what’s at stake is having serious diseases that are not addressed, and that leads to people suffering. That’s the main driver for what we are doing.”