Massachusetts’ Billion Dollar Biotech Plan Has Sweet Valentine’s Day; House Blows Kisses to UMass, RNAi, and Others

Xconomy Boston — 

The Massachusetts legislature promised Governor Deval Patrick he’d get some action this month—on his long-delayed billion-dollar life sciences initiative, anyway—and it delivered right on Valentine’s Day. The House yesterday unveiled its version of the bill, which according to media reports is largely faithful to the one the Governor introduced in May.

Indeed, the 10-year, $1 billion House plan mirrors Patrick’s by earmarking half the money (in bonds) for capital projects, a quarter for research grants, and a quarter for targeted tax credits, according to the Boston Globe. But House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi “is seeking to put his own imprint on the life sciences plan with an array of narrowly targeted, regional spending initiatives that would benefit individual companies, communities, and University of Massachusetts campuses. Even roadbuilders, vocational high school students, and scientists in Israel get a piece,” wrote the Globe‘s Matt Viser.

Some such goodies include $12.6 million for an I-93 interchange near Wyeth Pharmaceuticals’ (NYSE: WYE) 1,800 person Andover campus and $12.9 million for water and sewage-treatment infrastructure improvements in Framingham (where Genzyme is expanding). And the University of Massachusetts is a big winner, getting a planned $95 million to build a life science center at its Amherst campus and $90 million to help build a center at the medical school campus in Worcester focused on genetic therapy and RNAi-based medicine.

Bolstering RNAi research, and helping to establish the Worcester center, have always been key parts of Patrick’s plan. Indeed, UMass Medical School professor Craig Mello—who shared a 2006 Nobel Prize for co-discovering RNAi, a technique for turning genes off—had written the Governor an eloquent letter explaining the vision behind the center just a few months before Patrick first announced his initiative in May at the BIO conference. At that time, Patrick earmarked $38 million for the RNAi center, which is projected to cost nearly $300 million overall.

The House is expected to vote on the bill by the end of the month.