Q&A With Massachusetts’ Billion-Dollar Woman: Susan Windham-Bannister. Part 1.

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X: Are there any common themes emerging from your meetings with biotech executives and academics, in terms of what they hope the state’s initiative can accomplish?

SWB: It is becoming clear that an important role that the MLSC can play is to use our dollars to promote collaboration—within and across the sectors of the life sciences community—and to encourage other partners to come to the table with investments. We are being encouraged to play the role of convener and facilitator, meaning that an important role for us is to bring various parties together to share ideas and problem-solve. And by the way, a friendly reminder not to forget that the life sciences community includes device, diagnostics and pharmaceutical companies—not just biotech!!

The most common “theme” that I am hearing from all areas of the life sciences community is the need for the MLSC to have a focus and set priorities. The Governor’s $1B initiative is unprecedented, and we all applaud his vision. At the same time, those of us in life sciences recognize that the average cost of bringing a single new drug, device, or assay to market easily can approach tens of millions of dollars!! Thus, a recurring theme from the life sciences community is that the MLSC should not try to do everything all at once, but take a thoughtful position on where to focus initially, and then evolve over time. There will be disappointments—because we can’t make everyone happy—but there also will be an appreciation of the fact that the Center is not its spreading investments so widely that we dilute their impact.

Remember that the Life Sciences Center also is a steward of public tax dollars. We owe the citizens of the Commonwealth a return on those dollars, in terms of economic development as well as new and better advancements in life sciences. An important part of our mission is to make investments that will create jobs across the state, by helping Massachusetts companies grow, supporting the development of our talented workforce, and attracting new companies, scientists and skilled workers to Massachusetts. But there are many ways in which we want to contribute to a better quality of life for the residents of the state. Since Massachusetts has been a pioneer in health care reform, wouldn’t it be great if some investments by the Life Sciences Center could ultimately help bring therapies and treatments to market that impact the quality of our health care as well as lowering the cost and increasing access to care for all of us?

So we want to make an impact with what we invest. That means selecting a few things, doing them well and getting leverage on our dollars.

Shortly after the new life sciences legislation was signed on June 16th, a delegation from Massachusetts was at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) conference in San Diego to announce Massachusetts’ new initiative. I noticed that the slogan of another state that was participating at the conference is that they are “a state of minds.” I think that we can say that because of the new life sciences initiative in Massachusetts we live in “a state of hope.”

X: Have you been surprised by any feedback you’ve gotten so far? If so, why?

SWB: The most pleasant surprise has been the strong support among our constituencies of the fact that that the MLSC can’t do everything and can’t be all things to all members of the life sciences community. As someone with a background in strategy I came to the role of president and CEO with a strong leaning towards focus. I’ve been happy to hear that our stakeholders are fully supportive of this orientation!
Like most interviews, we start with the easy questions and then they get harder. We’ll continue with the second half of the interview on the site tomorrow.—Editors

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