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State Grants Fuel Lowell Biotech Growth

$7M for UML Incubator, MCC Life-sciences Center

Lowell Sun photo by Bob Whitaker
BOOST FOR BIOTECH: Posing for photos at the announcement Friday of $7 million in life-sciences grants in Lowell are, from left, Middlesex Community College President Carole Cowan, UMass Medical School Chancellor Michael Collins, Massachusetts Life Sciences Center President and CEO Susan Windham-Bannister, UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan and Lowell Superintendent of Schools Jean Franco. The event was held at the Massachusetts Medical Device Center, M2D2, in the Wannalancit Mills.

Lowell Sun
By Grant Welker

LOWELL -- A new incubator space for medical-device and biotechnology companies will be established in the city thanks to a $4 million state grant announced Friday. Middlesex Community College was also given $3 million to build a new biotechnology facility to replace its outdated center in Lowell.

Both grants are the latest in a series funded by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which in total is funding $1 billion over 10 years to help expand the state's life-sciences industry, which was said to be the fastest-growing in Massachusetts.
UMass Lowell graduate student George Agyapong has been conducting research for Flow Forward Medical, an M2D2 startup.SUN / BOB WHITAKERSun staff photos can
UMass Lowell graduate student George Agyapong has been conducting research for Flow Forward Medical, an M2D2 startup. SUN / BOB WHITAKER

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"Students are our next generation of life-science experts," Susan Windham-Bannister, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, said at an announcement Friday.

Friday's announcement also included a celebration of grants for four area high schools that were first announced in December.

Billerica Memorial High School, Greater Lowell Technical High School, Lowell High School and Nashoba Valley Technical High School were each given between $87,000 and $116,000 for lab equipment and bio-technology programs.

The new Lowell incubator, to be known as the Big Company/Little Company Innovation Hub, will pair larger, established medical-device and biotechnology companies with small startups.

A London orthopedics device company, Smith & Nephew, will team up with 206 Ortho, a startup now at the incubator M2D2, the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center. Boston Scientific will serve as a mentor for Flow Forward Medical, another M2D2 startup that is hoping to bring to market a blood pump used for dialysis. Many other partnerships are planned.

A UMass Lowell graduate student, George Agyapong, has been conducting research for Flow Forward on blood damage during dialysis. He said he found it difficult to get an internship before, but now hopes to land a job with the company after graduating this spring.

"It is promising," Agyapong said of the blood pump.

The Big Company/Little Company Innovation Hub will be based somewhere in Lowell, but not at M2D2 because it has run out of room at Wannalancit Mills, said Steven Tello, the university's associate vice chancellor for entrepreneurship and economic development. The new hub is expected to be 11,000 square feet, nearly doubling the UMass-affiliated incubator space in the city and creating enough space for 15 to 25 startups.

M2D2 has a waiting list of companies looking to be included at the incubator, Tello said. The projected opening for the new center is in about a year.

"We will do you proud, I promise that," Tello told Windham-Bannister, whose agency has announced a series of grants at schools across the state in recent weeks.

Middlesex Community College was given $3 million to build and equip a new biotechnology facility at its Talbot Science Building on Middle Street in Lowell. The addition of a clean room in the lab, along with other equipment upgrades, will expand the college's ability to prepare students for jobs in life sciences, the Life Sciences Center said.

The heads of UMass Lowell and the UMass Medical School, which oversee M2D2, touted UMass' partnerships with leading life-science companies helping students and the state's economy. M2D2 also has a program with Lowell High School students, said UMass Lowell chancellor Marty Meehan.

"These are exactly the types of partnerships we're looking for," he said. "The innovation economy is alive and well in Lowell and Worcester and the support of the Mass. Life Sciences Center will ensure that this innovation economy continues to grow."

UMass Medical School Chancellor Michael Collins said support from the state has allowed for "a new day of collaboration" at UMass. Not long ago, faculty in different subject areas were even banned from working together, he said.

"M2D2 really is the embodiment of that collaboration we hope to foster," he said. 

Middlesex Community College President Carole Cowan thanked Windham-Bannister for including community colleges and other public schools in the grant program.

"Unlike many areas, we really do work together," she said. "We thank you for validating the work of our program, but most importantly we thank you for validating the work of our students as they enter the field."