by Lenny Pierce, Research Analyst
On March 5th at East Cambridge’s Royal Sonesta Hotel, Bisnow hosted the Boston Life Sciences Summit –an event titled “Boston Life Sciences: Global Hotbed?” The discussion featured professionals from the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio), The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and The Boston Globe as part of the event’s keynote interview on the climate of the life science industry as well as a panel of seven speakers focusing specifically on how that climate could affect real estate in the city of Boston in the coming years.
The event lead off with a discussion between The Massachusetts Life Science Center’s Susan Windham-Bannister, MassBio’s Robert Coughlin and The Globe’s Mike Sheehan. Among other issues, these speakers stressed the importance of marketing the Life Science Corridor to incoming life science companies. The Life Science Corridor is a partnership between the mayors of Somerville, Cambridge, Boston, Quincy and Braintree to promote this string of cities along the Red Line as the nation’s Silicon Valley of life sciences. Naturally, the much-needed improvements to the Red Line itself were seen as a crucial step achieving this effect. While the discussion of transit improvements in Boston always leads to questions as to the sources of funding, Coughlin was quick to point out that more life science groups coming to the hub means a larger tax base to pay for T improvements–even if those improvements were made before the companies arrived.
The second half of the summit featured seven panelists who either worked directly in the life science business or for real estate service groups that are intimately involved with said industry. This panel consisted of Karan Paruvangada of AstraZeneca, Bill Kane of BioMed Realty, Thomas Ragno of King Street Properties, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, Jason Theberge of Commodore Builders, and Erik Lustgarten of Steffian Bradley Architects.
One theme these panelists focused on was the importance of density to the modern life science tenant; the value that biotech and pharma companies place on being physically close to one another. Bill Kane stressed that the life science industry has made a massive shift from one where intellectual property was strictly protected to one where the consistent exchange of information between companies is considered crucial to each entity’s success. This clustering effect doesn’t necessarily need to happen in Kendall Square and Kendall Square alone–provided an area can get enough companies on board, that vital density can be achieved elsewhere in locations like Lexington and Waltham as well. In fact, the same principal can be achieved inside a single building as has happened with King Street’s 87 and 200 Cambridgepark Drive. 87 Cambridgepark Drive is now home to Dicerna Pharmaceuticals and after major renovations that afforded the property a much more open layout, smaller companies lucky enough to join Dicerna in the property will be able to form something of a micro-hub within the building.
The last topic covered was a discussion of where in the Boston area we could see our next stage of development for life science real estate. Mayor Curtaone was naturally quick to make the case for Somerville–and it’s a strong one. Not only is the city already along the Life Science Corridor, but according to Curtatone, it also has over 300 acres of developable land. Somerville’s proximity to Cambridge also means that the value placed on geographical industry density also strongly favors the city as the next great life science hub.
Sustaining Boston as America’s life science hotbed will require meticulous attention from both the public and private sectors. With similarly strong life science hubs in places like San Diego and San Francisco, Boston’s status as the premier destination for pharmas and biotechs is something we as a city will need to constantly bolster. Just as Lexington and Waltham are perfectly reasonable alternative to Kendall Square for density-seeking groups, so too could Raleigh-Durham and Philadelphia be reasonable alternatives to Boston. Luckily, according to every one of Thursday morning’s speakers, defending our position as the most desirable location for life science companies in the country is a challenge that Boston is more than ready to meet.