McKee makes push for $45M investment in life sciences

HOUSE SPEAKER K. Joseph Shekarchi speaks during a press conference Monday in support of a $45 million public investment in the biotechnology and life sciences sector. Also pictured, seated from left, are Rhode Island Foundation President Neil Steinberg and Gov. Daniel J. McKee./ PBN PHOTO BY CHRIS ALLEN

PROVIDENCE – Gov. Daniel J. McKee on Monday joined House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and a panel of stakeholders in the biotechnology and life sciences field to lobby for a $45 million investment to jump-start a life sciences hub in Rhode Island. 

“We are ready to become a leader in the life sciences industry,” said McKee. “This investment will draw in biotechnology companies from around the world. That means good-paying jobs, innovative technologies and steady economic development.” 

The event was held at the CIC Providence building in the city’s Innovation and Design District, which advocates of the $45 million investment see as a microcosm of a much larger biotechnology sector.  

“The only way a bioscience hub works is if you have partners in government working together as one cohesive unit in the state,” said Shekarchi. “As well as very strong academic partners and private companies.” 

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The initiative first gained traction back in October with the release of a report funded by the Rhode Island Foundation that found the state has the capacity and opportunity to foster a bioscience sector but lacked the necessary infrastructure. 

The report was prepared by Damon Cox, who headed up economic development for the Boston Foundation before joining the Boston-based startup accelerator Mass Challenge and recommended $50 million over two years in initial funding to create a quasi-public agency with a $1.5 million annual budget. 

At the request of Shekarchi, who has made the bioscience initiative a hallmark of his speakership, McKee included $45 million in his fiscal year 2024 budget proposal that is now being vetted by the General Assembly. 

Shekarchi would not commit to supporting a new state agency. And the specific details on how the funding, if approved by the General Assembly, have yet to be worked out. No public hearings before the House and Senate finance committees have been scheduled, but Shekarchi spokesperson Larry Berman said there will likely be an entire day of deliberations dedicated to deliberations. 

Rhode Island Foundation President and CEO Neil Steinberg characterized the investment as seed money to create a self-sustaining bioscience ecosystem. 

“This is about potential. The tools are here. The stage is set. The players are ready,” he said. 

Shekarchi said the reaction from Smith Hill colleagues has been positive, including from Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, who will hold considerable sway over whether the measure gains final approval. 

In a follow up conversation after the briefing, Shekarchi said he was “keeping an open mind” on the logistics governing how the money would be used. Possible schemes on the table include a stand-alone quasi-public agency to oversee the program; funneling money through the various investment and business development programs managed by R.I. Commerce Corp.; incentives such as tax breaks for job-creating companies; or some other combination. 

Both Shekarchi and Steinberg cautioned against assuming $45 million would change the state’s life science sector overnight. The fruits of this funding may not be realized for a couple of years. 

Co-founder of Bolden Therapeutics and Brown University professor of neuroscience, Justin Fallon, said the state has most of the elements necessary to create a biotech and research hub, such as workforce and government buy-in, but lacks the infrastructure and lab space that is critical to attract new companies and private investment. 

While Bolden was founded and makes its corporate headquarters at CIC Providence, its research labs moved to Cambridge, Mass.  

“That is why we had to move. Because that sort of space is absolutely crucial,” he said. “If a company is going to be able to be independent and be able to grow, you need to have that. And that was just not here [in Providence] in 2019 when Bolden was founded.” 

(Christopher Allen is a PBN staff writer. You may contact him at 




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