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Biotech strategy advances

Patrick seeks advice on $1b legislation to be unveiled next month

Governor Deval Patrick told a group of business and science leaders yesterday that he will introduce legislation next month detailing his $1 billion biotechnology proposal.

The bill, which would still have to be approved by the state House and Senate, is expected to answer one of the questions still hanging over the governor's booster strategy for life sciences in Massachusetts: How can state money be used to fuel a sophisticated industry in which it is already a global leader?

Patrick convened biotechnology executives, nonprofit organization leaders, and academics in Harvard Square yesterday morning to collect ideas for shaping the legislation. About 75 people were expected to attend the meeting, but more than 120 turned out, filling the seats, back wall, and doorways of a small conference room at the Charles Hotel.

"There's real energy behind this," said Kevin Casey , Harvard University's government-relations director, who attended the meeting. "The challenge for the governor and his team is going to be to synthesize all these ideas."

"It's big dollars with a lot of moving parts, any one of which people can define for their own purposes," he said.

When Patrick unveiled his $1 billion spending plan on the floor of the BIO International Convention in Boston last month , he spoke about it in broad terms, leaving the specifics to be worked out later. He proposed three big pots of money to be spent over 10 years: $500 million in bonds to pay for buildings and equipment, $250 million in tax credits and other incentives, and $250 million in direct state spending for research grants and other programs.

During yesterday's meeting, groups of executives and officials retreated into side rooms to brainstorm ideas for how each piece of the biotech plan should work.

Venture capitalist and former gubernatorial candidate Christopher Gabrieli chaired a group on regional "innovation centers," suggesting the state could build a small network of research facilities with shared equipment to boost the economies of communities beyond Greater Boston.

A Genzyme Corp. executive, Mara Aspinall , led a group that considered how the state should spend $250 million on corporate tax breaks and growth incentives, suggesting strongly that Massachusetts should provide grants to attract companies or prevent them from leaving the state.

The Patrick administration now must boil down dozens of ideas generated at the meeting into a proposal that can get through the Legislature.

A Patrick spokeswoman said the July bill the governor will file is likely to cover business incentives, job training, and a new mission and makeup for the Life Sciences Center, a small state board that will be enlarged and charged with making the day-to-day decisions on how much of the $1 billion is ultimately spent. She said it wasn't yet clear whether the $500 million bond issue would be wrapped into the bill or introduced separately.

Stephen Heuser can be reached at