Sciences Clusters

For scientists pursuing careers in biotech, clusters of life science-related companies and research institutions in the eastern United States may be a promising place to look for jobs. These so-called bioclusters have a 30-year history in the region and, in recent years, have seen an uptick in active support from academic institutions and state and local governments. We focus on three leaders in the region, the bioclusters in Massachusetts, Maryland/Washington, DC, and North Carolina. By Shawna Williams

Bioclusters have their roots in a pair of 1980 government decisions, explains Peter Abair, head of economic development and global affairs at the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, an industry group. One of these, the Bayh-Dole Act, for the first time allowed discoveries made with federal dollars to be licensed for commercial purposes. The other was a Supreme Court decision that DNA could be patented.

“These two federal decisions really created the biotech business, made it a viable business,” Abair says. But research institutions making potentially translatable discoveries aren’t enough to make a successful biocluster. “Workforce and access to capital are the two most important things,” he says. “And then proximity to other resources like hospitals,” which can collaborate with companies on research, such as with clinical trials. “Not every [biocluster] in the world has the combination of all of those things,” he says. Early biotech companies clustered in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Massachusetts, Abair says, because these regions boasted a combination of top research universities, a qualified workforce, and investors who saw promise in biotech.

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