Boston’s Deep Bench in Life Sciences

Chris Borges is not unusual as post graduate students go in Boston. He is a PhD candidate at the Harvard Medical School who is laser focused on aplastic anemia, learning everything he can about the disease that finally claimed his father’s life and how a more successful bone marrow transplant might have saved his dad.

Emmanuel College’s urban campus is steps away from the city’s medical mecca

But part of what sets Borges apart from his colleagues at Harvard Medical School – apart from the personal mission he is on – is that Borges did not attend any of the undergraduate colleges that tend to be preparatory schools for Harvard Medical School. He went to Emmanuel College in the city’s Fenway neighborhood that is an easy walk away from Harvard Medical, the Joslin Diabetes CenterDana Farber and a host of world-class hospitals. Not coincidentally, Emmanuel also boasts an unusual partnership with Merck Research Laboratories which built its world headquarters on the Emmanuel campus precisely because of its proximity to the renowned medical mecca that is Boston.

Boston’s preeminent place in the life sciences industry is now being hotly debated after one of the flagship company’s in that industry,Genzyme, announced this week it had agreed to be purchased by the French drug maker Sanofi-Aventis for $20 billion. With likely job losses and perhaps other mergers on the horizon, the question being asked around town is whether Massachusetts is on its way to becoming a second-tier market for the life sciences and the pharmaceutical industry.

But the Chris Borges’ story is telling about Boston’s future because it proves the point that while this merger will likely cost Massachusetts some jobs in the shorter term, it is a merger that was largely driven by the human capital that abounds in this region. The life science architecture in Massachusetts is so deeply ingrained in our institutions and political life that a small liberal arts college like Emmanuel College can make a legitimate claim as an up and coming destination for bioscience education. Borges is just one of the bright stars at Emmanuel who went on to Harvard Medical and professional careers at prestigious employers like Merck.

When Governor Deval Patrick travels to Israel and the United Kingdom in March to promote Massachusetts as a hotbed for the life science, technology and clean energy industries, he will be accompanied by many of the leaders of those industries. Those trade meetings will be liberally sprinkled with the marquee names of HarvardMIT and the world-renowned medical institutions that ring this city.

But Gov. Patrick shouldn’t forget that what also makes Boston such a giant in the life sciences industry are the Chris Borges’ of the world, individuals whose path took them through the Fenway to lesser known colleges before they help find a cure for a heartbreaking illness that no one before them had discovered.

Like our other great passion – the Boston Red Sox – building a successful enterprise that can win year in and year out requires highly talented players who are better at every position than the competition – and a deep bench that can step in and take that enterprise to the next level.

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