Interview conducted by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
Please can you outline the main focal points of the recently published Impact 2020 report?
We were extremely excited to launch the Impact 2020 report at our annual meeting. Our five-year strategic plan is focused on value, early-stage financing and ensuring more patient-centered discussions.
What is particularly exciting about Impact 2020, is that this is the first time we have included all stakeholders, meaning the innovators in the biotech industry and the people who are actually involved in introducing new products and therapies, as well as providers and payers.
Our plan is to have the innovators, the providers and the payers all help to define value and solve a lot of the early-stage financing problems that exist in the industry, while still keeping the patient at the center of our discussions. We feel that this comprehensive strategy will ensure that we continue to be the leading environment for the innovation and creation of new therapies.
Why are there concerns over the future of innovation in the life science industry?
Massachusetts is a wonderful environment for this industry, but we also acknowledge and recognize how fragile it is and how important it is to address the concerns.
For example, one concern is the regulatory uncertainty over cost containment. We're going through several reforms here in the United States and it's important to ensure that incentives for the innovative research and development of new treatments are continued.
If we don't continue to reward innovation, the development of new cures will come to a grinding halt and that's not good for anyone. It's not good for our local economy here in Massachusetts; it's not good for the government; it’s certainly not good for our industry, but, most importantly, it's not good for the patient population.
How do MassBio plan to help safeguard investments in innovation?
A big call-to-action is that we're going to be part of the conversation. We're going to make sure that, as these decisions are being made, we, as an industry working together with the providers and payers, can really consider value throughout the healthcare chain and think about the long-term cost involved in the continued care of patients.
People often feel that new, innovative therapies and products are too expensive. However, we're confident that if we can really emphasise value as part of the conversation, right from when a new therapy is created through to its use in a patient’s continuum of care, that people will understand the value of innovation and really ensure that innovation is protected and safeguarded.
What are the other main challenges facing the industry?
A big problem is early-stage financing, which as a whole is very difficult now in this climate. People often talked about the valley of death, but that valley of death is getting much wider and is really right outside the front door for companies now.
The way we're trying to make up for that, and the way companies have succeeded, is by looking for non-traditional funding sources. Disease foundations and family foundations, for instance, are playing more of a role now. Crowdfunding also offers a new opportunity and we're really trying to help our member companies come up with ways of pulling together these early-stage dollars.
Our successful venture capital firms are continuing to make investments, but they're making larger investments in fewer companies. We need to make sure that early-stage funding is available for the development of new ideas from our world-class academic institutions and academic medical centers.
What opportunities lie ahead and how will MassBio help companies succeed?
One area of business that came to light as a result of Impact 2020 is something that was not in our last 5-year strategic plan, which is the interesting opportunity that the area of life sciences IT provides.
Massachusetts could and should be the hub for life sciences IT. We've got a world-class IT workforce coming out of world-class academic centers and academic institutions. We also have the providers and the payers.
If we focus on harnessing the opportunity that big data in life sciences puts forward, I'm confident that five years from now, we'll be able to look back and say that Massachusetts is the hub for life sciences IT.
Why has the life sciences cluster in Massachusetts been so successful and would you recommend life science companies relocate to MA?
Absolutely, yes, they should relocate. The reason we've been so successful and are going to continue being so successful, is because we have all the necessary elements – from world-class academic institutions, leading medical centers and a critical mass of start-up companies, through to large biotech and biopharma companies. If you then add to that a supportive government, state and local, we have all of the elements that this industry needs to succeed.
This is why we also feel that MassBio and Massachusetts can and will lead the national conversation as it relates to value. We've got the payers and the providers at the forefront of the issue and we're uniquely positioned to bring all the parties together and really create a new model of healthcare.
Do you predict any other large geographical life science clusters to emerge over the next 10 to 20 years?
There will always be emerging clusters competing for our companies, our research dollars, and obviously, our talent, but it's our job to make sure that we maintain the critical mass and supportive environment to keep Massachusetts at the top of the list.
We'll never be the cheapest place to locate a company, but there are so many factors that can and do offset that. It's our job to tell that story at MassBio and through Impact 2020.
What impact do you think the future of the life science industry will have on patient outcomes?
This industry provides hope and I think the future is bright for patients because we really are on the cusp of major breakthroughs in some of the most troubling diseases of our time.
It's only with continued investment in life sciences that we'll find a cure for cancer or, even better, find a way of identifying and manipulating the genes involved in stopping cancer from even occurring.
On a more personal level, I have an 11-year-old son that has cystic fibrosis, and that's how I came into this industry.
A lot has changed in the last eleven years. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has been working with companies such as Vertex and many others, to develop the first drug to treat or alter the underlying cause of that disease. That's a huge move forward and could ultimately lead to all patients with cystic fibrosis being able to live a good quality of life.
If they can do it for cystic fibrosis, they can do it for other medical needs. That's what they're working on here, and that's why the future is bright. It's such a wonderful industry to have the privilege of working in.
Where can readers find more information?
About Bob Coughlin
As President and CEO of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, Bob’s mission is to foster a positive environment that enables each biotechnology company to achieve its full potential in Massachusetts, making the state a world center for biotechnology. He is very familiar with all areas of the Massachusetts life sciences super cluster and is a passionate advocate for research and the biotechnology community.
Bob has spent his career in both the public and private sectors, and came to MassBio after serving as the Undersecretary of Economic Development for Governor Deval Patrick. Prior to that, he served three terms as State Representative to the 11th Norfolk district, and focused on healthcare and economic development as his legislative priorities.
Before his public service, Bob held senior executive positions in capital management and venture capital firms. He started his career in sales for the environmental services industry.
Bob serves on the Board of Directors at Aridis Pharmaceuticals, a privately held biotechnology company focused on infectious diseases.
He also serves on the Board of Directors for The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare and The Boston Irish Business Association, and has held the post of honorary chairman of the Great Strides Walk for Cystic Fibrosis since 1996. Bob was recognized as the American Diabetes Association Father of the Year in 2011, received the 2012 Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Volunteer Leadership Award, and, in 2013, was honored with the Boston Irish Business Award from the Boston Irish Business Association.
Bob is a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy where he majored in Marine Engineering, and is a Lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve.