By David Perry
In his four years at the helm of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC), Travis McCready has searched for the cogs that turn the Bay State’s life sciences ecosystem. He invests in the ones that can push the industry forward.
In McCready, MLSC’s president and CEO, UMass Lowell has a valued friend. He sees the university’s potential and supports its strengths.
Most recently, MLSC provided key funding of $5 million for the renovation of Perry Hall, the new home of the university’s biomedical engineering labs.
“Based on our review of market demand for the major and the need for more discipline-versatile scientists in the field, we were eager to support UML’s vision for heightened biomedical engineering training capabilities,” says McCready, who serves on the university’s Biomedical Engineering Advisory Council.
Support of the Perry Hall project made perfect sense given the overall trends in the life sciences industry, McCready says.
“As a practical matter, life sciences firms are increasingly seeking leaders with the intellectual flexibility to incorporate the biological sciences and engineering in order to bring novel drugs and medical technologies to market. To accomplish that teaching goal, a university needs more labile bioengineering infrastructure to match the breadth of content covered. The Perry Hall project is just that facility,” he says.
The life sciences industry, which includes pharmaceuticals, medical device makers, biotech research and development and medical labs, is a key driver of the state’s economy. According to MLSC, as of 2016, the state’s life sciences sector employed 99,000 workers, the second highest among U.S. states, and generated $13.4 billion in wages.
“UMass Lowell is critical to our success in three core ways,” says McCready. “First, spurring life sciences activity native to the Merrimack Valley achieves regionalized economic development. Second, UML is training the next generation of life sciences professionals who’ll live, work and lead in the commonwealth.”
Third, mobilizing collaboration between corporations and institutions ensures that UML technologies get a frictionless pathway to commercialization, he says.
MLSC has been involved in other important efforts at UMass Lowell. It was the lead funder of the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2) at UML. A joint partnership between UMass Lowell and UMass Medical School in Worcester, M2D2 is a business incubator that helps medical-device and biotech startups bridge the gap between idea and market. Since its inception in 2007, M2D2 has assisted more than 100 companies.
McCready has high praise for the university’s partnerships with industry.
“In addition to the world-class research and highly competitive teaching and learning opportunities, UML has these deep, integrated industry partnerships. There are over 200 such industry partnerships on campus at any given time, ranging from a company co-hosting a piece of high-end equipment to a company developing technology in UML labs with the assistance of UML students,” he says.
MLSC carefully evaluates projects it will support, according to how it sees need and value.
“Among our current priorities,” says McCready of evaluating projects to support at UML, “are driving advanced biomanufacturing innovation and workforce training, and intensifying the convergence of the biological sciences, engineering and the data sciences.”
McCready hopes the tandem of the university and MLSC can draw everyone to science, especially groups that have long been underrepresented.
“Patients are waiting. Research institutions, primary and secondary schools, and all educational institutions must work harder to maintain open pathways in the sciences for underrepresented groups, including girls and students of color,” says McCready. “Every girl or student of color not cultivated in the sciences is a stone left unturned, a molecule not developed, a mystery left unraveled. Patients and their families are waiting for the end product of the brilliance that girls and students of color offer. We partner with the Massachusetts ecosystem to help make that vision a reality.”
For nine local high school students, that vision came into focus at UMass Lowell last summer. The students were participating in MLSC’s High School Apprenticeship Challenge, which provides students from underrepresented groups with paid internship opportunities at academic labs and life sciences companies around the commonwealth. For the first time, UMass Lowell was a host for the eight-week program.
“It’s clear from hearing the final presentations that it was a great experience for both the students and the faculty,” says a grateful Joseph Hartman, dean of the Francis College of Engineering.
It was such a success that the program will return to UML in the summer of 2019, increased to 14 student interns.