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Windham-Bannister: What we’ve done primarily is look to see how we can increase the leverage on the dollars we have from the state—which have been reduced. What we need to do is do as much as we can with fewer resources. One of the things we’ve done is created the Corporate Consortium Program, which is a way of allowing and encouraging corporate investment partners to match our investments. Johnson & Johnson is the charter member. They believe, as do we, that the Life Sciences Center is going to a look at some of the best opportunities in the state. So a good place for them to place their bets and their money is along side of ours. I would say that that’s certainly one of things we’ve done to make as many dollars available as we can—it’s not to say that it’s a perfect substitute for the dollars we’ve lost from the state. [Here’s a story I wrote about J&J’s $500,000 commitment to the Corporate Consortium.]
X: The Corporate Consortium sounds like a good deal for corporate investors. Why haven’t any large Bay State companies become members?
W-B: I can’t answer that question, but we are certainly doing a lot of outreach. I don’t know if it’s that J&J already had a culture of doing this type of collaboration and making funds available. It’s a good question; I don’t have an answer. We are certainly reaching out to Massachusetts companies and are in some good discussions right now that we hope will result in additional members in that consortium. We’re hoping that we’ll have them joining in the next couple of months, if not before.
X: How much of your budget this year will be awarded to researchers and startups?
W-B: We are going to be investing $12 million in our grants [to academics] and loans to companies. We specifically requested from the [Life Sciences Center] board of directors that we not have to earmark a portion of those dollars to our corporate programs versus our academic programs, so that we could take a look at the quantity and quality of the applications. [The $12 million is included in the Life Sciences Center’s $15 million budget, which was reduced from the original amount of $25 million last year.]
X: What types of projects are best suited for your agency’s research grants?
W-B: In the cooperative research grants that were just announced… we were looking to fund opportunities that our Scientific Advisory Board deemed to have very high commercial potential. They were very focused on translational research. We were paying attention to a very broad representation of the life sciences industry. If you look at the companies that were partners with the organizations that we funded—because the funds went to the academic institutions—there was RainDance Technologies, Idera Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:IDRA), and Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX). I think what was really important to us was that there be excellent science, high commercial potential, the ability to accelerate that commercialization with our dollars, and that there be broad representation across companies and academic institutions.