Biotech exec marvels at changes in Boston area 10 years after he left

N. Anthony Coles, who recently returned to head up a biotech startup (based on work at MIT, natch), writes about the area's emergence as the world's leading innovation center in the field:

It has become an almost utopian community, where intellect knows no bounds, and science always trumps difficult disease treatment problems, cracking code after code to derive new state-of-the-art therapies with space-age technologies. If the scarcity of real estate and the never-ending demand for more space are any measure, the point of the grand design has been proven. “If you build it, they will come” was the whisper heard across the fields – and they have come. Boy, have they ever.


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Was he even here 10 years ago

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Was he even here 10 years ago? All the big Pharma research headquarters were *already* in Kendall Square by that time.

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Not really

10 years ago the biotech was strong in the area but spread around Cambridge and the 128-belt region. It was not as concentrated as it was today.

The major pharma companies still had huge research and manufacturing in the PA and NJ areas.

About 10 years ago the trend started with major life science companies shutting down in other areas and building out research hubs. Most of them went to Cambridge but a few of them started also building out in and around the 128 belt. The basic reason was that none of the new hires and hot recruits wanted to move to New Jersey.

The most insane stuff happened in the last 5-6 years -- that is when Kendall started getting insanely hot and MA and Cambridge based shops started moving short distances just to be near the action.

The best example I have is Biogen -- they built a fancy "Global HQ" campus out in Waltham only to figure out that they needed to be in Kendall. Now Biogen has TEN buildings in Kendall Square and is slowly shrinking their formally massive base in Waltham. Now their Global HQ is BIO1 right in Kendall.

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OMG!

You mean to tell me that the employees these company want to hire care about living in a CITY and care about things other then ease of driving and available parking?

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actually ...

The current commute to Kendall Square is such a horrific nightmare these days (car, public transit, bike) that my wife is actually wishing *daily* that she could go back to her prior Route-128 based commute to Big Pharma. She just got a huge promotion and is still ready to bail out of her current startup gig because the effect on quality of life and mental health is just too much

Anyway it's funny to me given how "bad' she described the 128 commute of yore. Now she wishes she had it back again heh.

Actually and back to the Biogen example -- they now run fancy wifi-enabled shuttles into Cambridge starting from points ranging from Worcester, Andover and NH and it's still barely makes a dent in the commuter tales I hear.

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Nice generalization

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I bike from west Cambridge almost every day, 20 minutes average and never varies by more than 5 minutes regardless of traffic. A lot of people wish they had such "horrific nightmares."

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Inaction will be our downfall.

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I agree with everything you described your wife as having said. 128 (ok, roadman I-95!) can be a damned mess, but given the debacle of getting in and out of the urban core these days, it looks less bad.

The takeaway from all this is that we are beginning to choke on our own success and unless we move really fast on some key transportation infrastructure projects (IMO, the largest one affecting Kendall has to be the creation of a West Station and the use of the Grand Junction line in connection with DMUs on short headways), we are going to be bemoaning "an exodus" of the golden egg laying geese.

Truthfully, given how long it takes to build the necessary infrastructure, I fear it is already too late.

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Commuter tales

But the commute to Kendall is easier than the commute to Rt. 128 office parks for people who live in Boston or Cambridge. Going in and out of the urban core is indeed a pain, which is why some people prefer to both live and work here.

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we also live in Boston - but not the urban core

Ease of access depends on where you live in BOS or Cambridge :) We officially live within Boston city limits but down in Roslindale where it's actually *somewhat* easier to access highways than to get to the urban core. What really screws us is having to get across the river to Cambridge - very few easy ways to do that. Love Rozzie but getting across the river from there is soul destroying except during off hours. Mode of transport almost does not matter. I prefer the T, the wife prefers to drive.

A 40 min highway commute w/ annoying but manageable stop-and-go traffic is also different from a 40-min crosstown commute where you have to deal with left turns against oncoming traffic, the BU bridge and the joys of Forrest Hills, Longwood area, J-way etc. The mental effect is almost as bad -- you realize that you are spending 50+ minutes to basically drive no more than ~7 miles. Ouch.

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So I used to do Allston

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So I used to do Allston/Brighton -> 128 and now do Allston/Brighton -> Kendal.

On a nice day, I will take Kendal, because I can Bike. Even on an okay day.

But in February, I would have had mixed feelings.

Of course, right now we can share 1 car, because I can bike/bus (My SO works in metro west) but if I worked on 128 we would need two.

Also, in Kendal you options for lunch or post work drinks are much higher, and you can even walk to the Mall to buy something during lunch.

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The 64 got hit hard by those

The 64 got hit hard by those snowstorms this winter. And by overflow of people wanting the 66 and jumping on the 64 instead because the 66 was full. Brutal days.

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Crossing the River

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Yes, crossing the river is a huge deal. My commute from East Boston to JP/Longwood was a nightmare, 40-60 minute slog (particularly the evening trip home). But after changing jobs to MIT, the commute from East Boston to Kendall is a 15 minute breeze by car, 35 minutes by train (from Airport to Kendall).

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Red-Blue

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The Red Blue connector has been hamstrung by hyperbolic cost estimates, but if it were in place your commute from Airport to Kendall would be, what, 15 minutes? Eastie would come up in the world even more if that was the case.

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The Red Blue connector has

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The Red Blue connector has been hamstrung by hyperbolic cost estimates successive MBTA managements that don't want to build the thing.

FIFY.

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We're not arguing

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They don't want to build it, so they inflate the cost estimates. I think we are in vehement agreement. More here.

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The shuttles sound amazing.

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The shuttles sound amazing. As someone who works at one of those companies along the 128 belt, the commute is the worst part...stressful driving in traffic, wasting tons of gas doing the whole stop and go thing. I'd gladly add time to my commute if it meant it's not me driving.

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Actually, Biogen built in

Actually, Biogen built in Weston, not Waltham. And the move back from Weston was part of having a new CEO.

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Please tell me what year

Please tell me what year Pfizer moved into Kendall Square.

How about GSK?

Eli Lilly?

Johnson & Johnson?

Sanofi (in the form of Genzyme)?

BMS?

What year did Roche start sponsoring LabCentral?

In 2005, Kendall Square had Merck and Novartis. Merck moved out. A shitload of companies moved in.

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Of course it's a utopia to Mr. Coles!

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Then again, anywhere would be a utopia if you got 62 million in the buyout of your last company in the Bay Area.

Of course, utopia is not a place where the hundreds of workers that Amgen laid off while he walked away with that fat paycheck live, but hey, that's how you can afford to eat breakfast in the Charles Hotel.

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real innovation in process

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That's a great optimistic take on the potential of science to solve the worlds problems. However, the real innovation needs to happen at a much lower level, on ordinary, common medical treatments where doctors are still struggling to adopt electronic medical records and being force-fed software solutions designed more to capture revenue than help doctors treat patients. These miracle drugs and utlra-expensive treatments are much sexier than checklists and guidelines that actually save lives and prevent errors.

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Sounds like

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Sounds like he's saying it's become more...

wait for it...

world class.

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does he mean '95 not 2005??..

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does he mean '95 not 2005??....Mr Coles is in his own little biobubble

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Shouldn't that be

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"95, not 128?"

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Wat?

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I was told that the only way to job creation and wealth production was removing taxes from teh jerb creators.

Is Mr. Coles seriously saying that infrastructure, education, and state/city ventures are better than no taxes?!

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No he's saying the

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No he's saying the infrastructure, education, and state/city ventures when compared to the current tax rates still make the area the best in the country for their industry.

Silicon Valley tax rates got jacked through the roof and the tech industry has been relocating to greener pastures with better regional benefits since then.

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wat, wat?

Oh, I dunno, without the Longwood Medical Area, the medical schools, the colleges (not tax based) supporting biotech, I would guess we would be another Detroit or Chicago rust belt city. We do not have good infrastructure, or good education (tax based). BPS besides for the exam schools? and what city state partnerships have been so helpful? I guess the big dig is good infrastructure but the feds paid the majority of that, so that hardly counts as genius investment of our tax dollars on the part of our local politicians. I would say we thrive despite them.
j

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A few things

Chicago is nothing like Detroit in terms of economic strength.

BPS is super relevant for residents, but doesn't really move the needle regionally. Most of the biotech 'talent' lives in the inner loop suburbs like Belmont, Newton, Winchester, etc..

I do agree that Menino specifically took credit for years for regional economic boom which had nothing to do with his decisions or leadership. The Southie Convention Center though - that's all him.

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You make very good points re: biotech exec

However, I am not sure I know how to take your point about the Southie Convention Center. My somewhat uninformed thoughts on that was that the CC itself is a money pit. I recall a conversation between the Mayor and David Brudnoy about whether the CC would ever break even. Dating myself there. And the few times the CC has caught my attention since then were articles in the Globe detailing (yeah, right!) that the costs/expenses kept rising beyond what was expected. So I am not sure whether to Praise/Blame the Mayor for that one.

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