January 06, 2022

Seth Moulton visits biotech hub in Gloucester

Gloucester is aiming to be the state’s next big biotech hub.

Democratic U.S. Congressman Seth Moulton, joined by state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester and state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, paid a visit to the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute Thursday to glimpse the future.

“It’s not going to take over for downtown Cambridge,” Moulton said, “but it’s going to provide a different environment that’s very complementary and important and independent.”

According to the institute’s website, the North Shore is home to 38 biotech companies with 12 to 750 employees, and Cape Ann, including Gloucester, is home to four of them, with a handful more in the pipeline. Just nine years ago, no biotech companies were based in the area. Gloucester has been conducting outreach through science forums in the city and in Kendall Square to further attract the attention of the science community.

“The life sciences clearly said they’re interested, they like the fact we have a transportation node that takes by train or by highway into the city,” Tarr said. “We do have to figure out housing, and we’ve got to figure out physical space, and  we’re gonna have to work together on that as the city grows.”

The institute takes advantage of its maritime location to mine the ocean’s potential for research into cancer and aging, and to study the potential application of oceanic microbes to medicine and biotechnology, for example.

The institute’s science director, Andrea Bodnar, guided the group through the lab, built in 2018, which houses other biotechnology companies on the floors above. She showed Moulton and the others tanks full of sea urchins, many of which live well over 100 years without significant age-related decline or evidence of cancer.

She also showed the group the site’s microbe culture lab. “The microbes or bacteria, the fungi are a tremendous source of new discovery, so every time we bring anything in from the ocean, we always culture the bacteria and the fungi associated with it,” she said.

The company also hosts the Gloucester Biotechnology Academy down the road, which teaches 40 students per session in a highly subsidized certificate program to set them up for career success and create a biotech talent pipeline. Many of the students were not planning to attend college. After the program, many got jobs as lab technicians at companies like the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

“They are ready to hit the ground running, they have 10 times the number of lab hours that a Harvard biology major graduates with,” said Chris Bolzan, executive director of the institute. “They have skills and they’re ready to go.”

By:  Amy Sokolow
Source: Boston Herald