Life Science

Interview: Susan Windham-Bannister

High-Profile recently interviewed Susan Windham-Bannister, Ph.D., president and CEO at the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

HP : Massachusetts is such a hub for research and pharmaceutical companies: What do you think draws them here? How does this affect our overall landscape of Massachusetts (or New England)?

SWB: After six years of strategic investment by the MLSC, Massachusetts has emerged as the global leader in life sciences and has become a magnet for companies large and small from every part of the U.S. and the world. There are many reasons for companies to come to Massachusetts, including proximity to our world-class academic institutions and medical centers, the presence of industry leaders in all sectors of the life sciences, our talented workforce, and our vibrant life sciences community. In 2008, we added Governor Patrick’s Life Sciences Initiative to that mix, and it has brought a simmering pot to a roiling boil! All of this is not happening by accident. It’s because, through the implementation of the Life Sciences Initiative, including more than $535 million in state investment supplemented by more than $1.7 billion in third-party leverage, we’ve built the world’s best ecosystem for life sciences innovation and growth. All 10 of the top 10 biopharma companies in the world now have a presence in Massachusetts. Baxter announced in September its decision to locate its new global innovation and R&D center for the company’s biopharmaceuticals business in Cambridge, Mass., bringing 400 new jobs. GE Healthcare announced this past summer its decision to relocate its life science HQ from New Jersey to Marlborough, Mass., a $21 million capital investment by the company that will bring more than 220 new jobs. Small to mid-size companies from all over the world are also choosing Massachusetts, companies like Oryzon, a Biotech company from Spain, and Nihon Kohden, a medical device company from Japan, both of which opened offices in Cambridge over the past month.

The center’s investments in creating a vibrant community of early-stage companies are also playing a role in this. Large companies have told us that they want a front seat to the innovation that is taking place in Massachusetts, and that this is playing an important role in their decisions to locate, invest, and grow here. That’s why one of our “innovation enablers” is to focus on entrepreneurship and the pipeline of early stage companies, an area in which we have invested more than $38 million.

The impact on the landscape of Massachusetts and New England has been an influx of jobs, creating economic opportunity for our residents, a boom in real estate development and commercial leasing, and an increase in the pipeline of new treatments, therapies, and cures that will result from work going on in Massachusetts.

HP: What is the biggest challenge facing the life sciences sector in the coming year?

SWB: One challenge is the need for seed-stage financing for pre-startup R&D, product development, testing, or even development of a prototype. Innovators are finding such financing hard to locate, and the MLSC is working on a program that will help to fill that gap. We want to continue to reduce barriers that can hamper innovation and prevent good ideas from moving forward.

HP: What trends might disrupt “business as usual” in 2015?

SWB: Changes in the political landscape in Massachusetts are on the horizon via the November elections, including the election of a new governor. Governor Patrick has been a great champion of the industry and has been our best closer in discussions with companies that want to locate in Massachusetts. Massachusetts is now the global leader in life sciences, but if we want to stay on top we need to continue in invest.

HP: What are some steps companies can take to foster innovation and/or growth?

SWB: At the MLSC, we believe that knowledge creation occurs worldwide and that global collaboration between life sciences companies has the potential to enable breakthroughs and fuel economic development. Toward that end, we have two collaborative programs focused on international collaboration: the International Collaborative Industry Program (ICIP) and the Universal Partnerships (UP) Program. Through ICIP Massachusetts companies can secure grant funding for joint R&D projects with partner companies in six geographic regions around the world, matched by funding for the partner company from their region. Through UP, companies in Massachusetts can seek grant funding to support R&D collaborations with partner organizations all over the world. In addition, to facilitate international collaboration we have created a partnering tool, the International Partnership Assistance Portal (IP-ap). Information about all of these programs and tools is available on our website at

HP: Upcoming events?

SWB: Upcoming events are listed on our website ( We also share these event listings with the life sciences community through our Weekly Digest, which reaches more than 5,000 stakeholders every Monday by email.

HP: Additional info on how people can get learn more or get involved with MLSC?

SWB: People can learn more about the center on our website: They can also sign up for our weekly newsletter to stay in touch by entering their email address at the bottom of our website, and can connect with us through Twitter @MALifeSciences or Facebook ( I would also encourage people to contact my amazing team; we would be happy to answer any questions and share more information.