Opinion/Malysz and Milos: Science can lead the way for the R.I. economy

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Carol Malysz is the executive director of RI Bio. Patrice Milos is the cofounder/president and CEO of Medley Genomics and the board chair for RI Bio.

The Sept. 14 commentary (“R.I. will benefit from unified health-care system”) about merging the Lifespan and Care New England systems into a single academic health-care system through partnership with Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School is positive and exciting news for our Rhode Island community.

Combining each organization’s strengths in areas such as cardiology, neuroscience, oncology and orthopedics will catalyze creation of national centers of excellence and attract patients throughout the region and beyond. Most importantly, Rhode Island will finally have the chance to bring medical and scientific excellence to the forefront to foster innovation and entrepreneurship, impacting the health of our citizens.

As Rhode Island’s life sciences trade organization, RI Bio is committed to supporting the evolution of partnerships like these and their progress toward expanding the state’s economy. The future of Rhode Island’s economic prosperity depends on our ability to build and support this integrated life sciences innovation ecosystem, fueled by vision, investment, partnerships and collaboration.

This unified system also widens opportunities for growth through positive spillover effects from biomedical innovation in the Boston-Cambridge area. With high rents, the high cost of living, a saturated market and transportation gridlock to the north, Rhode Island is well placed as a more affordable alternative for life sciences companies, with university talent to match.

Biomedical innovations are converging with technology development in other scientific fields — including engineering, information technology, imaging and nanoscience — to offer new insights that inform the creation of biomedical products. Biomedical innovation requires close collaboration between basic research, clinical research and industry development, all of which can now be easily facilitated in Rhode Island.

Furthermore, more than $2 billion of both public and private capital has been invested in the state across 28 projects this year.

One of the most significant of these projects is Amgen’s next-generation manufacturing facility in West Greenwich, a first-of-its-kind manufacturing facility in the United States. This biomanufacturing plant will incorporate multiple innovative technologies into a single facility and be built in half the construction time with approximately one half the operating cost of a traditional plant. The plant will produce medicines that serve patients around the world, while adding 150 jobs, further positioning this state as a leader in biomedical innovation.

At Rubius Therapeutics in North Smithfield, investment of $155 million built a bio-manufacturing plant expected to create 160 jobs in manufacturing, biotech operations and supporting functions.

Additionally, five new innovation campus projects in development, supported by a $20-million bond approved by Rhode Island voters in 2018 and matched by private funds, are designed to bridge the gap between world-class research at Rhode Island’s universities and create high-tech jobs in advanced industries.

Not only will these innovation campuses result in hundreds of good-paying jobs, but they will also prime Rhode Island to become recognized as a leader in advanced industries, including cybersecurity, data analytics, CAR T-cell therapies and agricultural technology.

Rhode Island innovation is on the move. With the opening of two new innovation centers, the Wexford Innovation Center in Providence and Innovate Newport, we are witnessing the growth of new and thriving communities of collaboration and entrepreneurship. Both centers offer weekly informal networking, virtual educational events and communities of entrepreneurs focused on positive impact.

These are promising developments for a state reliant on a small business economy. Still, many challenges remain with much more work to be done. If we stay the course with continued vision, investment and persistence, however, we believe that science can lead the way toward a very bright future for our state’s economy and our citizens.

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