Life Sciences Center adviser quits over frustration with Baker
BOSTON — Frustrated by his belief that the Baker administration's support for the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center is "dwindling," the founding member of a panel that advises the agency on investments announced on Thursday plans to resign later this spring.
The resignation later submitted to the Life Sciences Center board and others by scientific advisory board chair Harvey Lodish called into question Gov. Charlie Baker's commitment to the center, which became one of his predecessor Deval Patrick's signature accomplishments when he signed in 2008 a $1 billion, 10 year commitment to bolstering the industry.
The new head of the MLSC, however, rejected the premise of Lodish's contention that Baker and his finance team are backing away from the center and its mission to support growth in the life sciences industry in Massachusetts.
"Unfortunately, support from the Baker administration for the MLSC, and for the Capital Projects Fund in particular, is dwindling," wrote Lodish, a founding member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge and a biological engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Baker's budget proposal for the next year included $10 million for the center's investments fund and $20 million for the tax incentive fund, but did not allocate any money to the MLSC Capital Project Fund, which has been used to fund projects like a nuclear facility at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for the development of ant-cancer drugs and a new cryo-electron microscope at UMass Medical Center used to in development of new pharmaceuticals.
With $65 million in capital fund, the MLSC has been able to continue to support already approved projects, but has been unable to launch a new round of competitive grant funding in which the scientific advisory board would play a peer review role.
"As a result, the MLSC now lacks the capability to help the many cities and not-for-profit institutions in the Commonwealth develop the next generation of innovative discoveries that underlie the next generation of innovative biopharmaceutical and device companies," Lodish wrote. "Indeed, this reduction threatens Massachusetts' global leadership of the biopharmaceutical and medical device industries."
MLSC CEO Travis McCready, appoited by the board in September, said he took "categorical issue" with Lodish's claim that the Baker administration was not committed to the mission of the agency or the scientific advisory board.
"The Baker administration has been and remains one hundred percent supportive of me and the Life Sciences Center. I've been onboard four months now and I've received tremendous support and partneirhsip," McCready told the News Service.
McCready also called it "pretty unfair" for Lodish to question his experience or commitment to the peer review process used to evaluate grant applicants. Lodish called McCready an attorney with "impeccable administrative experience" but no expertise in life sciences, and said McCready had not reached out to meet with members of the Scientific Advisory Board.
McCready said not only had he met individually with Lodish and other members of the advisory panel, but the board had a full meeting six weeks ago.
"There's no one formula for what the attributes of a CEO of the Lfe Sciences Center ought to have and I like to think and the board agreed the qualities that I have and my experience is prescisely the kind of experience the organization needs to support scientists, academicians, financiers cities and towns," McCready said.
McCready came to the Life Sciences Center from the Boston Foundation and was the first executive director of the Kendall Square Association with legal experience in grant-awarding and woring tech companies and start-ups.
Lodish's resignation will take effect on April 30, and McCready will begin working with the center's board fo directors to find a replacement on the scientific advisory board.
The Massachusetts Democratic Party seized on the news of Lodish's resignation and the content of his letter as an opportunity to once again criticize the governor's long-term plan for the Massachusetts economy.
"After years of Democratic leadership's careful investments in the state's now booming life sciences sector — investments that have crated thousands of new jobs — this news today should be of serious concern to every voter in the state. We have been raising concerns for months about the impact of Gov. Baker's status quo government with no real vision for the future and that concern has now turned all too real," the party said in a statement.
McCready said he understood Lodish's frustration, but defended the Baker administration's approach as he said the governor and his budget staff have been working through its long-term capital spending plan while trying to balance a need to control spending, avoid hitting the debt ceiling and reduce the state's reliance on non-recurring revenue.
He said he expects to have a better sense of the center's capital budget in "late winter, early spring."
"I know its frustrating for Harvey and it's not easy for us in terms of wanting to run a competitive capital program, but we also need to temper our enthusiasm for running a program with the realities," McCready said.
He continued, "Frustration would have seeped in if there were a lack of communication, but there is not a lack of communication and I believe that we'll be in a positon to understand what we can offer the community in the next couple of months or so."
Despite the parting shots that Lodish took at both he and the administration, McCready said he doesn't take it personally, calling Lodish "one of the rock gods of the Massachusetts scientific community" whose contributions to the Life Sciences Center deserve recognition.
"The great thing about Massachusetts is we have a closet full of rock gods," he said.
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