Biotechs and Robotics Pay Off for Massachusetts

A law passed in 2008 that provides subsidies to biotech and robotics companies in Massachusetts is helping to grow these industries in the commonwealth. Some say the biotech and robotics industries in MA are beginning to rival those of Tokyo and California, which have long been considered the global leaders in this type of business.

Massachusetts Received One Third of Seed Stage Funding

One of the reasons for this growth in the commonwealth is the Massachusetts Life Sciences Act of 2008. This legislation authorized $1 billion in investments, grants, loans, and tax breaks over the next decade to be given to local biotech companies. The government is following through with their promise; they have presented over $761 million in seed-stage funding for these businesses between 2009 and 2013. This has allowed nine of the ten largest drug manufacturing companies to set up research and development laboratories in Massachusetts.


Foundry robotics.

Homegrown vs. Tax IncentivesPaying Twofold

One of pivotal stipulation of the MA incentive package is that it focuses on local businesses who have already been working in the industry. Legislation hoped to unlock the commercial potential of research already being conducted at state universities including Harvard, MIT, and the University of Massachusetts. By attracting smaller companies on the cutting edge of research, Massachusetts has found that large companies tend to migrate to states where those small companies are thriving.

Army collaborates with robotics.

Massachusetts Grows ConnectionsAnd Keeps Them

Attracting smaller companies that draw the interest of larger companies has helped Massachusetts become a leader in the biotech and robotics industry. The new financial incentives attract companies and talent to the commonwealth. As the biotech and robotics industries continue to grow, investors have become more motivated to provide additional seed money for growing companies. Larger companies have spent more time mentoring startup companies after seeing their industry swell; the success of large and small companies comes as a benefit to the state.


Atlas, a humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics.

The Future of Robotics in New England

Since 2008, at least twenty robotics companies have sprouted up in Massachusetts; venture capital in the robotics industry has also grown to more than $60 million, up from $20 million in 2008. Technology giants like Amazon and Google have provided millions of dollars in startup funds for robotic-focused companies through acquisitions and other forms of investment.

Unfortunately, trends have shown that smaller companies often sell to larger firms before they can grow to a significant size. This has prevented Massachusetts from becoming a true powerhouse in robotics. The international robotics industry saw $15 billion in 2010; it is expected to see $65 billion by 2025. Experts say that special focus will be given to robotics that provide everyday utility, including those that help clean and maintain homes.

Massachusetts has implemented incentives that have helped the state grow the robotics and biotech industries, but many experts say there is still significant room for growth.

UMass Researchers Granted $1.6M for Robotics Development

What do Hurricane Katrina, the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, and the World Trade Center attacks all have in common? Obvious tragedy aside, the common factor in each of these disasters is the use of robots to assist first responders in rescue and cleanup missions. Robotics technology has evolved exponentially over the last two decades, along with the potential to save victims of disaster faster with decreased risk to first responders and other rescue personnel.

A research team at UMass Lowell led by Dr. Holly Yanco, founder of the UMass Robotics Lab and director of the New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation (NERVE) Center, have been awarded four grants totaling more than $1 million toward the development and study of robotics for use in rescue and damage assessment, as well as improving mobility and increasing independence for the elderly or disabled. At a time when science and technology experts around the globe, including notable names such as Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak, and Elon Musk, are speaking out against the dangers of implementing weaponized artificial intelligence, Yanco’s team are driving research in the opposite direction and looking for ways to improve and save human lives.

The grants awarded will fund research and development in four areas of robotics: improving communication and assessment between robots and control centers in disaster situations, educating rescue personnel in the best methods for using robots in the field, research in robotics for mobile manufacturing, and research and development on low-cost robotic arms to assist and improve mobility for the physically disabled.

The researchers are utilizing a wide variety of devices in their research that are available to the public, such as Google Glass and touchscreen laptops and tablets. In the future, this may lead to technology that could be integrated with pre-existing resources for disaster-response teams. One of the most interesting areas of study will be the progress made toward using robots to create a 3D map of disaster sites to better prepare rescue crews and allow command centers to create fully developed action plans in shorter spans of time.

GE Prepares for Marlborough Site Summer Launch

General Electric’s decision to move its Healthcare Life Science division from New Jersey to Marlborough was initially met with tempered enthusiasm by those gauging its economic impact on the region. However, recent projections predict that the center will employ over 500 full time employees no later than 2017.

Luckily for the already stressed recruiters at GE, the Life Sciences center will not begin operations at full-scale levels; the current timetable calls for a partial launch early this summer, requiring an operational staff of approximately 215 employees. Filling even a limited number of these extremely technical positions would be a challenge for any company. Luckily, General Electric chose the Marlborough site specifically for the hiring advantages it provides.

According to releases from Erica Bell, senior global resource leader at GE, highway accessibility made Marlborough an appealing location compared to several other potential locations, with both Boston and Worcester seen as academic pools from which the facility can draw. Another benefit that Bell mentioned was the reasonable commuting times it afforded to Western Massachusetts. These factors ensure that a vast majority of the positions available now and in the future will be filled by candidates from within Massachusetts.

The location is also in the midst of what is fast becoming a regional hub for the life sciences. Life sciences technology is the fastest growing sector of the Massachusetts’ economy and, by relocating to Marlborough, GE was able to position themselves closer to customers and partners within the industry. They are also extremely close to the hospitals and universities that serve as training and testing centers for staff and equipment.

A Full and Exciting Year for Harvard Bioscience

Harvard Bioscience of Holliston, a global developer, manufacturer and marketer of a range of life sciences equipment, has reported record quarterly revenues of $30.4 million for Q4-2014, an approximate 9.0 percent increase of $2.5 million in comparison to the $27.9 million earned in Q4-2013.

The company stated it was able to significantly improve its operating margins and other key metrics in the final quarter of 2014. “The fourth quarter wrapped up a very fulfilling and exciting year for our company,” President and CEO Jeffrey A. Duchemin said in a statement. According to Duchemin, acquisitions completed last October, combined with a new management philosophy, contributed to the strong finish. Acquisitions included Multi Channel Systems MCS GmbH and Triangle Biosystems Inc.

Combined with their procurement of HEKA Electronik of Germany in the first quarter of 2015, Duchemin expects the new additions to continue to “contribute toward our organic growth as our sales team offers a complete set of electrophysiology solutions to our customers.” He concluded, “In 2014, we put together the building blocks of a solid foundation that we believe will continue to deliver value for our shareholders. We look forward to another great year.”

Income from continuing operations, as measured under U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), was a loss of $19,000, or $0.00 per diluted share, for the three months ended Dec. 31, 2014; compared with a loss of $255,000, or $0.01 per diluted share, for the same quarter in 2013. For the year 2014, revenues were $108.7 million, an increase of 3.3 percent, or $3.5 million, from 2013’s results.

Boston Scientific Purchases American Medical Systems Unit for 1.6 Billion

Boston Scientific, a Marlborough-based life sciences company, announced on Monday that it has agreed to acquire the urology division of American Medical Systems for $1.6 billion. Boston Scientific expects to close the acquisition in the third quarter of 2015. This will be the company’s largest acquisition since it purchased Guidant Corp, a manufacturer of cardiovascular products, in 2006 for $27.2 billion.

American Medical Systems (AMS), a division of Endo International, published reports last week that Boston Scientific was to close a deal with Endo for an unspecified AMS unit. The urology unit of AMS, based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, employs roughly 800 workers worldwide. It covers the men’s health and prostate health divisions of AMS. The unit is being sold for $1.6 billion up front, plus a potential for another $50 million based on the unit’s sales in 2016. Acquisition of the urology branch encompasses AMS products that treat erectile dysfunction, male urinary incontinence, and benign prostatic hyperplasia.

Boston Scientific (BSX) states the company’s technologies complement their portfolio of products that treat other urological conditions, including kidney stones, pelvic organ prolapse, female incontinence and abnormal uterine bleeding. This follows their purchase of Bayer AG and IOGyn last year. IOGyn, based in California, received FDA approval for a system treating uterine fibroids and polyps. AMS products that treat urology related issues in women will not be included in the deal.

Over the course of the previous year, the AMS unit generated $400 million in sales and adjusted operating income of about $130 million, with net income of around $60 million according to BSX. President and CEO of Boston Scientific, Mike Mahoney, expects the acquisition will create a business with annual sales of nearly $1 billion and will enable “strong future growth prospects through portfolio innovation and international market expansion.” BSX anticipates more than $50 million in annual pre-tax cost savings by the end of 2018 with boosted profits starting as early as 2016.

The announcement comes less than a month after an out-of-court settlement with competitor Johnson & Johnson. BSX paid $600 million to their rivals after Johnson & Johnson disputed their purchase of Guidant. The settlement avoided a $7.2 billion lawsuit filed by the rival company that had agreed to purchase Guidant before BSX acquired it for $27.2 billion.

Study Foresees Continued Medical Technology Growth

The medical technology industry is growing as an increasingly significant sector of the Massachusetts economy. According to predictions from Evaluate Ltd., a market research firm, it is expected to grow at a 5 percent annual rate for the next five years. The report, entitled “EvaluateMedTech World Preview 2014, Outlook to 2020” (free registration required for download) shows that medical technology sales are expected to reach $514 billion by the end of that period, with influential mergers and emerging players reconstructing the faces of industry leaders.

Westborough-based Coghlin Companies, Inc. recently announced that their subsidiary Cogmedix, a medical device manufacturer founded in 2008, had outgrown its space and was relocating to its new location in Worcester, more than doubling the size of its facility to keep up with growth and demand. The announcement of the merger involving Medtronic and Covidien, estimated at $42.9 billion, is  is anticipated to form the new market leader in an industry that will be worth over half a trillion dollars by 2020.

Research has also shown that spending on global research and development will reach $30.5 billion by that year, a growth of 4.2 percent. In the first half of 2014, $1.3 billion was raised in completed medical technology IPO offerings, a 44 percent increase from the same period in 2013. During the first half of this year, the value of mergers in the medical technology field rocketed up by 363 percent compared with the same period the year before, a huge indicator of what can be expected in the near future.

The End of AstraZeneca in Westborough

The AstraZeneca plant in Westborough has announced it will shut its doors permanently by the end of 2015. This is the final step the company has taken to shut down the plant, having already decreased employee levels there from 800 to just 180.  More employees will be relieved by March, but others will remain employed until the company closes at the end of 2015.

The closing of the facility means the city of Westborough will lose its biggest taxpayer. The AstraZeneca plant pays the city an estimated $2 million in total; $360,000 in property taxes and $1,548,547 for equipment taxes. Residents and businesses in Westborough will begin to feel the pinch of the revenue loss in fiscal year 2017.

City officials hope to fill the vacancy quickly.   The building is 420,000 square feet and could be a great site for a wide spectrum of businesses.

The AstraZeneca plant processed the asthma treatment Pulmicort Respules, which will now be produced at the company’s locations in Sweden and Australia. A company representative stated the move is to attain “increased efficiencies in our global supply chain.”

AstraZeneca will continue to house its research-and-development operations in Massachusetts, with facilities in both Waltham and Cambridge.

Medical Device Manufacturer Moves to Worcester

Cogmedix, a wholly owned subsidiary of Westborough-based Coghlin Companies Inc., recently announced the relocation of its world headquarters to 17 Briden Street in Worcester.  The medical device engineering and manufacturing services provider has become quite a success story in an increasingly important sector of the Commonwealth’s economy.

Chris Coghlin, President and CEO of the Coghlin Companies, stated “We are very excited about the trajectory of Cogmedix and the recent relocation, renovation and expansion of this world-class facility. For more than 100 years, our family has shared a deep-rooted passion for the economic success of Worcester and its surrounding communities, and we look forward to adding many new jobs in the greater Worcester area for years to come. The proximity of this facility lends itself well to attract highly skilled technicians as well as engineering and supply chain personnel as our growth continues into 2015 and beyond.”

Matt Giza, Vice President and General Manager of Cogmedix, said, “This move was made necessary by our steady pattern of growth. We really needed the additional space and these newly outfitted facilities are more than twice the size of our former location. This expansion will allow us to increase capacity to accommodate the needs of our customers, both existing and new, as well as provide improved inventory and supply chain management operations.”

Addressing Cogmedix’ growing niche in manufacturing finished laser and optically-based medical devices, Giza noted that upgrades included the installation of five purpose-built, independently climate-controlled, laser-safe test labs. Amenities include new cafeteria spaces, modern conference rooms, and a new Customer Convenience Center featuring fully equipped workspaces exclusively for visiting clients to enable a more intimate and efficient product launch experience with total transparency.

In addition to expanded production capacity and other benefits made possible by the much larger facility, the address itself has significant advantages. “Our new location,” Giza explained, “is at the junction of Interstate I-190 and I-290, providing quick and easy access to the entire region’s transportation infrastructure, including major airports in Boston, Worcester, Providence, and Hartford. We are also only about a mile from Worcester’s Union Station. All of this makes it possible for our visiting clients to arrive by air or rail and be hard at work in their own dedicated spaces in about an hour or less.

“We also couldn’t help but take notice of the rapidly growing biotech and biomed industry presence in the neighborhood,” said Giza. “Both regionally and nationally, Worcester has become well-known as a home for these cutting-edge industries, and Cogmedix is now located right in the heart of it all. We are immediately adjacent to WPI’s Gateway Park, Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives (MBI), as well as multiple life science companies in the immediate vicinity, something that will surely add to the atmosphere of innovation and create real opportunities for meaningful collaboration.”


Study Foresees Continued Medical Technology Growth

In recent years, the medical technology and medical device manufacturing industries have become an increasingly significant sector of the Massachusetts economy. According to predictions from Evaluate Ltd., a market research firm, it is expected to grow at a five percent annual rate for the next five years. The report, entitled “EvaluateMedTech World Preview 2014, Outlook to 2020,” shows that medical technology sales are expected to reach $514 billion by the end of that period, with influential mergers reconstructing the faces of industry leaders.

The announcement of the merger involving Medtronic and Covidien, estimated at $42.9 billion, is one such example. It is anticipated that together they could become the new market leader in an industry that will be worth over half a trillion dollars by 2020. Research has also shown that spending on global research and development will reach $30.5 billion by that year, a growth of 4.2 percent. In the first half of 2014, $1.3 billion was raised in completed medical technology IPO offerings, a 44 percent increase from the same period in 2013. During the first half of this year, the value of mergers in the medical technology field rocketed up by 363 percent compared with the same period the year before, a huge indicator of what can be expected at least in the near future.

The Evaluate Ltd. report predicted that activity among the major players in the sector will continue on a large scale. The Medtronic-Covidien union represents the biggest merger in the industry’s history and marks the beginning of a period of rapid change for the market. This, and other megamergers, will continue to dominate and reshape the various areas of the field in the immediate and possibly extended future.

New Wristband Claims to Shock Users Out of Bad Habits

A company in Boston called Behavioral Technology Group has created a wristband called Pavlok that shocks people with 340 volts of electric current. After putting the product on the crowd-funding site Indiegogo, the company has raised three times the amount of their original goal of $50,000.

That’s largely because the company claims the wristband will help people break bad habits. Co-founder Maneesh Sethi explains during the promotional video created for Indiegogo, “Now I know that electric shock sounds crazy, but sometimes crazy works.”

The campaign garnered enough attention that more than 1,000 funders have pledged money to help fund the product. With their goal met, the company plans to start shipping the wristbands in March or April, 2015. The electric bands will retail for about $150, but they are being offered for $99 on the Indiegogo campaign page.

Sethi was inspired by the idea that led to Pavlok when he observed the Pavlovian impact of shock collars on dogs. The effectiveness of the wristband on humans, however may vary widely depending on the user, user’s bad habits, and the level of addiction.

In the medical journal Frontier, a 2012 research article addressed Pavlovian responses in humans. “The mechanisms modulating the impact of Pavlovian responses on instrumental [habitual and goal-directed] performance are largely unknown, both in human and non-human animals.”

In the Indiegogo video, a man who has tested the Pavlok wristband states that he lost seven pounds after using the band for approximately two months. He does not reveal specifically how the wristband helped him achieve that goal.

Sethi, who is backed by an undisclosed number of investors, says that when wearers begin to go back to bad habits, “Pavlok jolts them out of it.”

Pavlok’s Indiegogo campaign ends Nov. 29.