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<MA> Billion-dollar life sciences bill passes Senate; governor to sign Monday

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    <MA> Billion-dollar life sciences bill passes Senate; governor to sign Monday

    Billion-dollar life sciences bill passes Senate; governor to sign Monday
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    June 12, 2008 03:26 PM
    By Globe Staff

    A bill designed to spur development in the state's life sciences industry has been approved by the state Senate and is now headed to the governor's desk.

    The $1 billion bill was enacted by the Senate this afternoon by a vote of 31 to 7. The bill, a cornerstone of Governor Deval Patrick's agenda, had been enacted Wednesday by the House.

    The governor expects to sign the bill Monday, said his spokeswoman, Becky Deusser. Lawmakers are hoping to trumpet the legislation at an international biotechnology conference next week in San Diego.

    Proponents of the bill said today in Senate debate that the bill would boost the state's economy while developing life-saving treatments.

    "This isn't just for one industry. This will have an enormous impact over a longer run," said Senator Harriette Chandler, a Worcester Democrat. She said the bill would also have an "absolutely revolutionary" impact on healthcare.

    Senate minority leader Richard Tisei told members that the bill was an example of "pork barrel spending.

    "I just remind you that it's the taxpayers that are paying. ... It's taxpayers' money, it doesn't grow on trees," he said.


    Life sciences initiative to become law
    By Rep. Tom Conroy
    Thu Jun 12, 2008, 10:22 AM EDT

    This week, the Life Sciences Bill emerged in its final form, a reconciliation of the differences between the House and Senate’s versions of the legislation. With the passage of the bill imminent, the commonwealth and its economy are poised to enter an exciting new chapter in which scientists, health care professionals and educators will have more resources to create new medicines and procedures to cure chronic diseases.

    The $1 billion initiative will direct funds to the industry through capital expenditures, tax credits and grants over the course of the next 10 years. The bill defines "life sciences" as applied sciences that expand the understanding of human physiology and have the potential to lead to medical advances or therapeutic applications, including agricultural biotechnology, biogenerics, biomedical engineering, biopharmaceuticals, chemical synthesis, genomics, medical devices, proteomics, regenerative medicine, RNA interference, stem cell research and veterinary science.

    Highlights of the bill are described below:

    Capital expenditures
    A total of $500 million in capital expenditures will be allocated to improve infrastructure needed to establish new companies in-state and facilitate the expansion of current Massachusetts-based companies. Of that total, $300 million will be directed to specific capital improvements that were discussed during the legislative hearings on this bill.

    For example, three buildings will be constructed within the UMass system – an advanced therapeutics center in Worcester, a life sciences research center in Amherst, and a nano and bio-manufacturing facility in Lowell. The remaining $200 million will be distributed – primarily in support of private sector entities – at the discretion of the Massachusetts Life Science Center under the authorization of the governor and the secretary of Administration and Finance.

    Tax credits
    Overall, $250 million in tax credits will be made available to Massachusetts companies over the next 10 years to offset the cost of establishing research and development facilities in the state, for federal Food and Drug Administration filing fees, clinical trials research, and orphan drug development. The bill also extends the net operating loss carry forward provision of the state’s corporate income tax code from five years to 15, in keeping with the long-term development timeframe of a typical pharmaceutical product.

    Overall, $25 million in grants will be made available annually for 10 years through four different newly established funds.

    The Dr. Craig C. Mello Small Business Equity Investment Fund will provide $250,000 in grants to certified life sciences companies in exchange for a 3 percent equity stake in the company. The equity stake idea was one of my contributions to the new law.
    The Dr. Judah Folkman Higher Education Grant Fund will provide grants of up to $15,000 for living expenses for qualified graduate, doctoral and post-doctoral students and candidates working in the life sciences field.

    The Massachusetts Small Business Matching Grant Fund will provide 1-for-1 matching grants up to $500,000 to entities developing new commercialization ready technologies that have received federal Small Business Administration grants.
    The Massachusetts Life Sciences Education Fund will provide grants to vocational and technical schools to purchase or lease equipment to train students in the area of life sciences technology or research.

    Overseeing this initiative will be the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC), a quasi-public agency formed in 2006 that promotes the life sciences in the commonwealth. Under the Life Science bill’s final form, the MLSC board of directors is reconstituted to include the secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, the secretary of Administration and Finance, the president of UMass, a physician, a CEO of a life sciences corporation, a researcher involved in commercialization, and a person with financial experience in the life sciences sector.
    Some observers of the bill disparage it as a spending spree. Others decry the idea that the government should pick and choose "winning" industries. These criticisms, however, fall short for a couple reasons.

    First, the competitiveness between states for scientists and burgeoning life science companies is fierce, and if Massachusetts doesn’t get engaged, we’ll lose people, jobs and businesses to the competition. Second, the state government is an economic partner with the business, scientific and educational communities, and must think and act strategically to invest in our state’s economic strengths, where we can obtain the best return on our investment. The investment is, after all, your tax dollars.

    In sum, this new law is a far-sighted commitment to an emerging industry that could help propel Massachusetts forward with tens of thousands of high paying jobs and dynamic growth. Moreover, it could help scientists based in Massachusetts find cures for ailments that cause suffering for so many of our friends and families.

    Tom Conroy is the state representative for Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland and can be contacted at