Gains, Losses for Mass. Life Sciences

(NECN: Peter Howe, Cambridge/Mansfield, Mass.) - The vast bio-pharma-life sciences and medical devices cluster that powers tens of billions of dollars of Massachusetts economic activity is often and properly described as “dynamic” – but dynamic can mean jobs going away as well as arriving.

Monday, Governor Deval L. Patrick and Pfizer leaders christened a new 1,000-person research and development facility in Cambridge where the global pharma giant with a market capitalization approaching $200 billion is centralizing research previously done at several New England locations. Pfizer said the center, at 610-700 Main Street alongside the Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Kendall Square life sciences supercluster, will lead Pfizer’s efforts to find treatments for some of today's biggest human health problems, like type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and lupus, kidney disease, muscular dystrophy, and Parkinson's disease.

“Where they begin to really concentrate their investment says a tremendous amount about where they think the best places in the world are to be,’’ said Dr. Susan Windham-Bannister, CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which is leading Patrick’s 10-year $1 billion effort to promote a range of jobs in the life sciences.

Asked what the Pfizer center changes in an area already renowned for the density of its life-sciences talent, Patrick said, “More space for more solutions to address human suffering, and 1,000 jobs which is pretty darn good as well … There are scores and scores and scores of small and medium sized companies that are a vital part of this supercluster as well.’’

But at the same time as Massachusetts was formally welcoming the Pfizer project, officials were digesting news first announced Sunday night that Minneapolis-based Medtronic wants to buy Covidien, the former Tyco Health, for $42.9 billion in cash and stock. Covidien is officially headquartered in Ireland to take advantage of lower corporate taxes and other benefits, but is largely run from a campus in Mansfield, Mass., at Interstates 495 and 95 and as of late last year employed about 1,800 people in Mansfield and elsewhere around the state. Covidien makes a broad range of medical devices, from surgical staples to ventilators.

The Medtronic bid offered a 29 percent premium over Covidien’s closing stock price Friday – but alarming to Bay State business leaders, the companies said they hope to cut $850 million in overhead expenses annually by 2018. That could portend hundreds of jobs being eliminated in Mansfield outright and others being transferred to Minneapolis, and there could also be efforts by Medtronic to beef up its Massachusetts presence in some ways.

Windham-Bannister said she’s remaining hopeful. “Whenever you have an acquisition, there's some redundancy of personnel, and so everything is to be determined in terms of what that is going to mean for actual headcount here in Massachusetts,’’ Windham-Bannister said. “But we view it primarily as a way for Medtronic to very quickly get a big footprint here in the state, and we think that's a very good thing.’’

Medtronic and Covidien had no comment on what would happen to jobs in Massachusetts. Omar Ishrak, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Medtronic, said in a prepared statement: “This acquisition will allow Medtronic to reach more patients, in more ways and in more places. Our expertise and portfolio of services will allow us to serve our customers more efficiently and better address the demands of the current healthcare marketplace.’’

With videographer Rich Mazzarella

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