Biotech subsidies: Which cat’s side are you on?

My week in review is up on the site.  I talk about ob/gyn MRSA at BI, the Himmelhandlers in The Nation and a new biolab delay. (Note that today’s Globe reports on more pediatric patient safety issues — this time at MGH.)  

One story I cover in the review is the “Stop Biotech Looting” campaign, launched by unionized electricians angry they’re not being hired to work on state-subsidized life science construction projects. The effort includes billboards, pickets, flyers and a website. All list a litany of complaints against biotech companies,  including two recently aided by Massachusetts Life Sciences Center  — Genzyme and Shire.

The campaign — a project of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103 — casts the companies as “biotech fat cats” collecting “corporate welfare” and points out years of pharma misdeeds including high prices, unsafe products and tax evasion.


Note that the union brought up none of these issues last year when they pledged their  support for the $1 billion life sciences bill.  Other activists  did object  to the subsidies, basically arguing that they would be  givaways to companies that would expand here anyway.  This from a story I wrote for Nature Network Boston. 

(As) the bill picks up pace in the legislature, critics have begun questioning the premise that the state is about to lose its dominance in the life sciences. By most measures, they say, the state is an industry nexus and there is little evidence of an exodus of life science companies.


At issue is a section of the bill that would expand tax incentives—amounting to as much as $25 million a year for 10 years—and fund road and sewer improvements to lure new companies to Massachusetts.


“When we say we will pay you to locate in a thriving mecca of this industry, it is dangerous,” said Sen. Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat, during a State House hearing earlier this month.


Supporters of the bill said the danger is in letting a valuable industry slip away.


“Leadership in life sciences is ours to lose,” said University of Massachusetts president Jack Wilson at the same hearing.


   Speaking to the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, MLSC presidents Susan Windhan-Bannister mentioned new construction jobs several times, but not the campaign. She responded to a question about the union effort by saying she thinks the message is “off point.” That same day, Gov. Deval Patrick addressed the issue a bit differently. The Boston Business Journal reported that he brought picketing union members into a MassBio meeting and asked the companies there to work with them.

I heard some of the union billboards were in Cambridge’s Kendell Square, but I couldn’t find any. I did find one near Biogen Idec from MassBio.  It features a close-up of a child with no hair kissing a kitten and reads: “Paving the way in Massachusetts for discoveries that will change the lives of patient around the world”



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