Massachusetts Governor William Weld and Boston'sMayor Thomas Menino both dedicated biotechnology jobincubators last week in their respective bailiwicks. Weld isup for reelection this November; Menino is not.The governor, on July 28, ceremonially signed anagreement with Franklin Loew, dean of Tufts UniversitySchool of Veterinary Medicine, empowering the school toset up a for-profit Biotechnology Park on its 634-acrecampus at Grafton, Mass.That verdant site is seven miles south of the BiotechnologyResearch Park in Worcester, and 37 miles west of Boston.In Boston three days later, the mayor announced to a pressconference that the city has purchased a large, 10-year-oldfactory building, which it will convert to the new "BostonEmerging Industries Center" (BEIC).BEIC's first tenant will be an innovation center, focusingon the biotechnology and medical device fields, andmanaged by the Massachusetts Biotechnology ResearchInstitute Inc. (MBRI).The 60,000-square-foot, red-brick structure, in the inner-city Roxbury section of Boston, has been vacant for over ayear, since the Digital Equipment Corp. closed down. Itmanufactured computer keyboards and other components,with a work force of 300. "Roxbury has all thecharacteristics of a low-income, low-employment area,"MBRI's president Marc Goldberg told BioWorld Today,"without its own industrial base. We hope to act as acatalyst," he added, "to build a new industrial cluster inRoxbury from the ground up."The Innovation Center, he explained, "will be a facilityproviding start-up biotech companies with basic facilitiesrent-free. Instead, MBRI will take an equity position,enabling it to garner and recycle income from a tenant'sfuture profits.A similar formula, Goldberg said, enabled MBRI's initialenterprise, the 75-acre Biotechnology Park in Worcester, tofill up with successful companies, among them Alpha-Betaand TSI. Another prominent tenant is Germany's BASF.(See BioWorld Today, April 14, 1994, Page 1.)From Non-Profit To Profit At TuftsAs the Worcester incubator reached capacity, Tufts' Loewtold BioWorld Today his institution created a for-profitenterprise, the Tufts Biotechnology Corp. Inc., to build andoperate a facility on campus to nurture start-up companies.This corporate subsidiary, Loew explained, required theuniversity to obtain a variance from the Commonwealth ofMassachusetts legislature, which had granted the land toTufts for non-profit, tax-free use only."So a bill was passed by the Massachusetts legislature, thatwould allow us to do this," Loew said, "and signed by thegovernor in December 1992. But," he continued, "Weldsaid, `This is fine, but we need to work out a situationwhere there's some sort of profit-sharing, if profits aremade at all.'"That was okay with us, because the state's been a partnerwith us even though we're a private university. "It's reallybeen a public/private partnership from the beginning."So Loew and the governor held their signing ceremony atTufts last Thursday.The formal agreement had actually been executed June 6between the Commonwealth Division of Capital andPlanning, which administers state-owned land, and TuftsUniversity. It provides that the commonwealth will initiallyreceive 10 percent of the venture's profits, rising to 30percent as these increase.Loew, who is president of the new company (and a boardmember of the MBRI), said that the next two steps are:first, to present the town of Grafton, in which the campuslies, with a master plan covering the 230 or so acresearmarked for the future biotech park; and second, to installthe infrastructure of roads, water and sewers to serve theproject's future industrial tenants."Obviously, companies that choose to locate here," Loewpointed out, "would presumably have some reason forwanting to be near a vet school. What we do, like anymedical institution, is basic science on the one side, clinicalstuff on the other. So we think biotech companies withinterest in vaccines, diagnostic products, animal-relatedproducts of other kinds, would find it convenient to locatehere."He noted that the "FDA still requires all kinds of animalwork before a human product gets out."Already, Loew disclosed, he has received "solid inquiries"from five or six prospective occupants. Two that look likereal possibles are "adolescent biotech start-ups; the otherthree or four, BASF-like, mega-corporations."He added, regretfully, "I can tell you one company that isnot a prospective tenant. We all know that Amgen [ofThousand Oaks, Calif.] is looking to locate inMassachusetts. They have announced that they are lookingin Cambridge, but I don't know if they've got a deal."Money for the initial roughing-in of utilities and facilities,he said, will come from private investors, the municipalityof Grafton and loans from the federal department ofHousing and Urban Development.Joseph McManus, associate dean of the vet school foradministration and finance, told BioWorld Today that itreceives some $3.2 million dollars a year in researchcontracts with biotechnology firms. "We're the onlyprivate-enterprise veterinary school in North America," heobserved, and "companies seek us out for our technicalfacilities _ from making transgenic animals to high-techimaging by CAT, NMR, ultrasound and cardiaccatheterization.Perhaps the school's highest-profile collaboration is withGenzyme Transgenics, Corp. of Framingham, Mass,. forwhich the school maintains a herd of goats that synthesizehuman antithrombin III in their milk. (See BioWorldToday, July 20, 1994, Page 1.)Tufts veterinary school sits on half the site of a former statemental hospital, which used to feed its 3,000 patients byfarming its 1,200 acres. Development of phenothiazinetranquilizer drugs in the 1960s made it possible to close thisfacility and in 1978 the then-president of Tufts, JeanMayer, secured the governor's support, and state land-grant, to found New England's only veterinary school.Boston's biotech initiative at hard-hit Roxbury, MBRI'sMarc Goldberg said, will mean immediate employment for70 or 80 construction workers, to refit the building for itsnew mission as an innovation center with shared reception,conference and other facilities for its tenants. More than$20 million in venture capital has been lined up to supportthese new companies, leveraged by $2 million in federalfunding, already committed to the project.Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Joseph Moakley, whoattended the mayor's press conference, and otherMassachusetts law-makers, are helping the city of Bostonlobby Washington to help support the Roxbury initiative.MBRI is planning an education and training program toprepare local residents for entry-level jobs in the futurebiotech center and to improve the teaching of science in theschools. "Ours is a long-term game-plan," Goldberg said,"not a quick fix."Moakley told the 100 or so media people, "We've got toroll up our sleeves and work together to create a newindustrial base for a new economy and give families andour children something to look forward to." n

-- David N. Leff Science Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.