Middlesex Region Is Poised to Become the Next Life Sciences Hotbed

Economic Development Coalition, Business Leaders Meet on Campus

About 100 people packed Alumni Hall on Nov. 27 for the meeting of the Middlesex 3 Coalition.

About 100 people packed Alumni Hall on Nov. 27 for the meeting of the Middlesex 3 Coalition.

11/30/2012
By Edwin L. Aguirre

The life sciences industry — which includes pharmaceuticals and medical device manufacturing as well as diagnostics and biotechnology — is enjoying robust growth, with new companies and new career opportunities being created each year regionally, nationally and globally.

To help tap into this vast, rapidly developing market, the Middlesex 3 Coalition — a new nonprofit regional collaboration made up of public and private sector leaders from five communities along the Route 3 corridor north of Boston — recently met on campus with business representatives to discuss the competitive advantages of setting up shop or expanding their life sciences enterprises in the region.

The Middlesex 3 communities include the towns of Bedford, Billerica, Burlington and Chelmsford and the City of Lowell. Their common goal is to strengthen and grow the region’s economic development as well as improve the quality of life for its residents.

Hosted by UMass Lowell’s Office of Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property (CVIP), the Nov. 27 meeting was billed as “Enabling Life Sciences Innovation Beyond Cambridge.”

“The Middlesex 3 Coalition is a concrete example of UMass Lowell interacting with Lowell and its partner towns to help stimulate economic growth in the region by providing interns, co-ops, qualified graduates for hiring, continuing education and research collaborations,” says George Kachen, Ph.D., senior director of CVIP at UMass Lowell, who represents the University in the coalition’s board of directors.

The meeting featured speakers and panelists, including Chancellor Marty Meehan, Pamela Norton of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center; Peter Abair of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council; Marybeth Campbell, director of education and workforce development for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Education; Lowell City Manager Bernie Lynch; Prof. Stephen McCarthy, co-director of the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2); Robert Buckley of Riemer & Braunstein; UMass Lowell Vice Provost for Research Julie Chen; Nancy Briefs of InfoBionic; Rick Geoffrion of Mitralign and Renee Connolly of EMD Serono.

An Engine for Economic Growth

“We have spent the last five years repositioning the University so that our students, our faculty and staff, and our community see us as a true public enterprise committed to taking an entrepreneurial approach to innovation in all aspects of our University,” Meehan told the audience that packed Alumni Hall. “In that spirit, we work closely within our region, including with the Middlesex 3 communities, to expand economic activity which benefits all.”

He noted that UMass Lowell is an economic growth engine that effectively leverages a modest state appropriation into a major regional impact — on jobs, talented graduates and, most importantly, the economic future.

“The University is one of largest employers in region,” he said. “More than 500 employees are Lowell residents and earn about $25 million in wages and benefits annually. Most of our graduates stay in the region and continue to have an impact, including approximately 4,000 here in Lowell.”

Meehan said the University’s new $80 million, state-of-the-art R&D facility, the Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center (ETIC) will help support and sustain UMass Lowell’s leadership in plastics engineering, nanotechnology and electro-optics. The ETIC, which was supported with a $10 million capital grant from the Massachusetts Life Science Center, will also enhance collaborations with regional industry partners such as Nypro, Boston Scientific, Raytheon and Advanced Polymers.

“We provide a skilled workforce to meet the needs of the life sciences industry,” he said. “This complements the skill sets provided by Middlesex Community College and the Shawsheen Institute.”

Meehan cited the BioManufacturing Center at UMass Lowell, which was developed through the efforts of Profs. Carl Lawton and Seongkyu Yoon and focuses on biomanufacturing process development, as another example of the University’s effect on the region’s growth.

“In addition, Dr. Yoon has launched the Biopharmaceutical Process and Quality Consortium, which is driving interdisciplinary research and academia-industry collaboration to improve biologics efficacy and developing efficiency,” he said. “Pfizer is the first of what we hope will be a select few member companies that are part of the consortium.”

Meehan also lauded the innovative developments at the M2D2 Incubator, which helps startups in the medical devices industry.

“All of these life sciences efforts are further supplemented by the entire UMass System, which includes UMass Medical School in Worcester for in vitro testing, the Life Sciences Center in Dartmouth and UMass Biologics Lab in Boston,” he said.