MassBio head Coughlin set to step down after overseeing massive biopharma expansion in the state during 13-year tenure
The past decade has been good to biopharma, nowhere more so than the bustling and ever-expanding life sciences hub in and around Boston. At the tip of the spear of that expansion is nonprofit trade association MassBio and its long-tenured CEO Robert Coughlin.
Now, Coughlin is stepping aside as the hub continues to bloom.
In an open letter announcing his departure early next year, Coughlin touted the work MassBio has done in his 13 years at the nonprofit amid an industrywide boom that has brought 18 of the top 20 biopharma players to the greater Boston area, he said.
In all, MassBio’s 140 members have added 16.5 million square feet of commercial lab space and 38,000 new jobs in the past 10 years, spurred by a rush of investor money into the space, Coughlin wrote. The industry overall has seen 94% growth in 15 years, Coughlin noted, icing Boston’s position as one of the major centers for medical innovation in the world.
“The Massachusetts life sciences cluster has gone from one of the best places in the world for our industry to the best because of our unique partnership between industry, academia, and government,” Coughlin wrote.
As MassBio looks for its next CEO, the nonprofit will be led in the interim by chief operating officer Kendalle Burlin O’Connell, who has been promoted to president and will keep her current role; Zach Stanley, MassBio’s VP of public affairs, who has been promoted to executive VP; and Kristine Kelly, VP of administration and finance. Coughlin said he left the organization “well-positioned to succeed” in his stead.
Coughlin’s long run at the helm wasn’t only a major success for the Boston life sciences hub but one that struck a personal note for him, he wrote in the letter. When Coughlin began his tenure, his then-5-year-old son was previously diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, which at the time had no approved therapies. More than a decade later, Coughlin wrote, a “Massachusetts company” — Boston-based Vertex — has scored FDA approvals for a suite of CF drugs that could vastly extend his son’s life.
“Today, I can confidently say that he’ll outlive me,” Coughlin wrote. “This was not something I could have said a few years ago.”
After more than a decade of rapid growth, biopharma investment in the Boston area hub doesn’t appear to be slowing much as MassBio looks to the future. On top of the seemingly endless stream of startups and early- to mid-stage biotechs at work, major pharmaceutical companies are also making big moves to expand their presence.
In September, Takeda announced the opening of a 24,000 square-foot cell therapy manufacturing facility at its R&D headquarters in Boston. Takeda touted the new facility’s proximity to its existing workforce in Boston as a key benefit for its newest team, which is designed to produce clinical-grade material from discovery through pivotal Phase IIb trials.