According to many of the founding myths of the industry, biotechnology was born in Boston. Regardless of when Beantown became Genetown, Boston is now the global capital of biotechnology. From elephants, such as Biogen, Genzyme, Vertex, and Millennium, to gazelles, such as Alnylam, Microbia, and TKT, Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard and MIT bursts and thrusts with the present and future of genes, stem cells, and interference RNA.
However, the celebratory spirit of the biotechnology industry as a whole, so evident at BIO 2007, has been tinged by palpable disquiet on the part of the locals. While the global biotechnology industry has set records for revenues, merger and acquisition activity, venture capital funding, and new drugs, many in Boston are worried that this very success augurs ill for Boston’s dominance. In fact, BIO 2007 has seen numerous free receptions, parties, billboards, pamphlets, and exhibition booths aggressively aimed at luring Boston companies to relocate to jurisdictions like Scotland, India, and Kansas, where prices are lower, skilled labor is abundant, and governments provide generous subsidies.
Boston fought back this morning. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced a $1 billion fund to help ensure that biotechnology remains ascendant in its hometown. At The Barking Crab – a restaurant emblematic of Boston’s first great biology-based industry, seafood – five young stars of Boston’s legal community expressed their optimism to me that Patrick’s new measure would be a beneficial one. In fact, they expressed optimism that one of the factors making Boston such a welcoming incubator to new biotechnology start-ups - local communities of highly skilled professionals specializing in servicing the often complex and challenging legal and business needs of such companies - will benefit especially.
What is certain is that, as biotechnology becomes a global force, driving both economies and human futures, competition to become the next Genetown – and, perhaps, to displace the current one - is becoming fierce.