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Growing the region's bioscience industry

Published 02/26/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 02/25/2013 10:24 PM

For years expanding the bioscience sector in southeastern Connecticut was easy - watch the Pfizer campus in Groton grow and, for a brief few years, expand to administrative offices in New London. Then the pharmaceutical giant began downsizing, closing its facilities in New London and reducing research operations in Groton, eliminating about 1,200 positions in the area over the past couple of years.

After getting over the shock of those changes, positive signs are emerging that the industry can begin growing again, this time not dependent on the expansion or contraction of a single, large employer, but constructed on a broader foundation of many small bioscience research companies with development potential.

In this vein, we urge passage of a bill to "establish a model plan for emerging bioscience and pharmaceutical businesses in southeastern Connecticut," introduced by Rep. Betsy Ritter of Waterford, a Democrat and deputy speaker of the state House of Representatives, and so-sponsored by other members of the local legislative delegation. It would require the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development to develop a model plan to support development of bioscience and pharmaceutical start-up and emerging businesses in the region.

Before they scatter, the state needs a plan to provide the incentives necessary to help displaced former Pfizer scientists create new companies and attract new talent. Done correctly this approach could pay larger dividends per dollar than some of the massive investments the state has used to attract large companies to Connecticut.

Also encouraging is the installation of research scientist Susan Froshauer as the new president of Connecticut United for Research Excellence, the state's top educational and business advocacy network for the bioscience industry in Connecticut. Now living in Guilford, Ms. Froshauer worked more than a decade at Pfizer, before showing her own entrepreneurial skills by co-founding Rib-X Pharmaceuticals of New Haven.

As director of the University of Connecticut's Tech-Knowledge Portal, Ms. Froshauer is familiar with the technology incubation program at UConn's Avery Point campus in Groton. The program provides research start-up companies space and assistance to develop, the kind of initiative the state needs to build on.

We are also glad to see local lawmakers taking up the cause to include Avery Point in Gov. Malloy's proposed $1.5 billion, 10-year plan to invest in science and technology teaching and research at UConn. According to the governor and UConn President Susan Herbst, the plans call for investing in the main campus at Storrs and the Stamford campus, where Gov. Malloy long served as mayor.

"Our concern with this new initiative is that it is not taking advantage of the assets available in southeastern Connecticut - specifically the Avery Point Campus, which has always been an afterthought in any discussions about the future of the University. We are still baffled by that - we have so much to offer this region, especially in the specialties of science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM)," states a Feb. 4 letter signed by Rep. Ritter, Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford; Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington; Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme; and Rep. Linda Orange, D-Colchester.

We join the legislators in urging the governor "to expand this new initiative within the existing budget" to include Avery Point.

Finally we welcome the recent formation of a bipartisan "Life Sciences Caucus" in the state legislature, including Sen. Maynard. Its stated purpose is to promote public policy that supports economic growth and scientific innovation in the state. "Life Science industries exist all across our state, and we want to ensure that public policy is conducive to them staying and thriving here," said Sen. Maynard.

Growing the bioscience industry can create good-paying jobs and encourage the graduates of Connecticut's many fine universities to undertake their careers here. After a few tough years, southeastern Connecticut is poised to participate in this growth. It's an opportunity it can't afford to miss.

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