Massachusetts to spend $1 billion on biotechnology

BOSTON Mon Jun 16, 2008 4:23pm EDT

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill on Monday that will direct $1 billion of state funds toward biotechnology over 10 years, aiming to fill a federal funding shortfall caused by White House opposition to embryonic stem cell research.

Challenging California's dominance in an area of science that could lead to cures for Parkinson's disease and other ailments, Patrick said the money would support research grants and strengthen facilities used by both public and private scientists.

"There is no place in the world with as great a concentration of life sciences talent, resources and vision as Massachusetts," he said at a ceremony before flying to the Biotechnology Industry Organization's annual conference in San Diego, California, to tout his plan.

Massachusetts is the latest region to express lofty ambitions in the embryonic stem cell research field, which requires destruction of days-old embryos and is opposed by abortion foes and the White House on ethical grounds.

Britain set up the world's first stem cell bank in 2004 to store and supply the cells for research, Singapore is aggressively courting top stem cell scientists, while India, China and South Korea are investing heavily in the area.

Massachusetts has some advantages. It is already a major medical cluster with two world-leading universities, four medical schools, 20 teaching hospitals and over 500 life science companies. Unlike California, its research funding will not be restricted to stem cell research.

Patrick's plan includes $250 million in tax incentives to encourage companies to expand, $250 million in grants for research, fellowships or workforce training, and $500 million for infrastructure, including a stem cell bank at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Privately held Organogenesis Inc, a specialist in regenerative medicine that aims to restore lost bodily functions by using stem cells, said the bill was a deciding factor in expanding in Massachusetts.

Patrick has said the legislation will create 250,000 jobs within 10 years. Massachusetts currently has about 75,000 life sciences jobs, accounting for about 1 percent of its workforce.

Polls have shown a majority of the U.S. public back stem cell research, which scientists believe could one day be used to provide individually tailored tissue and organ transplants, or repair spinal cord injuries.

California has given a strong boost to the research. In 2004, state voters backed the creation of the California Institute for Regenerative Research, passing a measure giving it the power to raise up to $3 billion in debt to finance stem-cell research.