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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Governor seeks $1 billion for stems cells, other life sciences research

By Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff

Governor Deval Patrick outlined an initiative today that would commit $1 billion over the next 10 years to life sciences research, including the creation of a stem cell bank, a centralized repository of stem cells available to all scientists.

The administration hopes to fill a gap created by a downturn in federal funding and attract "rising stars" in life sciences to Massachusetts with grant programs for local institutions. The combination of state funding and bond money would fuel a partnership between government, private industry, academic research hospitals, and colleges and universities.

The administration's goal is to compete with California, New York, New Jersey, and other states that are making major investments in the life sciences, to maintain Massachusetts' leadership in this area. In California, a 2004 voter initiative created a stem cell research center that is authorized to award $3 billion in research grants over the next 10 years.

Patrick described his plan in a speech at the BIO International Convention in South Boston, also wants to establish a center to streamline funding and research.

"There is no place in the world with as much talent in life sciences and biotech as here in Massachusetts," Patrick said in a statement. "Now is the time for us to invest in that talent and bring together the resources of our unparalleled research universities, teaching hospitals, and industry to work towards a common goal -- to grow ideas into products to create cures and jobs."

The initiative would also try to build on the work of University of Massachusetts scientist Craig C. Mello, who shared a Nobel Prize in medicine last year for his work with RNA interference, or RNAi. Mello helped discover a way to block the effect of individual genes in cells, which aided research on diseases that include Alzheimer's and HIV and could lead to treatments.

A news release from the governor's office outlining the initiative included praise from Jack M. Wilson, president of the University of Massachusetts.

"I applaud Governor Patrick for making such a strong commitment to the life sciences, particularly stem cell research and RNAi-related research and development," Wilson said. "The announcement today is an important step in developing a world-class life sciences strategy for the Commonwealth that will foster scientific innovation, including unlocking the mysteries of debilitating diseases, and spur economic growth."

Patrick hopes to spur research and create new jobs. His plan calls for:

-- $500 million for public higher education and equipment to be used in collaboration with the life sciences industry;

-- $250 million for research grants, fellowships, and training initiatives;

-- $250 million in tax benefits;

-- $250 million in matching funds for grants, fellowships, and training for private companies.

The initiative is part of new legislation from the governor's office that seeks to expand the state's Life Science Center, which currently has a two-member staff. The plan would have to be approved by the Legislature, which overwhelmingly approved a bill in 2005 that encouraged stem cell research.

Steve Hyman, provost of Harvard University, who chairs the school's Life Science Collaborative, also added his support in the statement issued by the governor's office.

"I commend the governor for reaching out to all sectors of our life science cluster in order to craft a stem-cell/life science package that recognizes the unique institutional assets and intellectual firepower in our region," Hyman said "The governor allocates state resources in effective ways to enhance our traditional strengths, buttress areas that need attention, and encourage powerful collaborations between our leading-edge institutions."

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