Stem Cell

10-year, $1B life sciences plan bears fruit in Massachusetts

  • In this Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 photo, researcher Leonard Zon, founder and director of the Stem Cell Program at Boston Children's Hospital, stands for a photograph among rows of containers holding about 300,00 zebrafish in a lab at the hospital, in Boston. Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick pushed through a $1 billion, 10-year life sciences initiative that helped pay for the stem cell program at the hospital. The zebrafish are used in stem cell research. Photo: Steven Senne, AP / Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

BOSTON (AP) — In his offices at Boston Children’s Hospital, Leonard Zon is busily developing cutting-edge stem cell therapies surrounded by fellow researchers, lab equipment and 300,000 striped, transparent zebrafish.

Zon’s lab — and the zebrafish — are the results of an initiative begun nearly a decade ago to make Massachusetts one of the country’s premier life sciences incubators.

That 2008 initiative, signed by former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, committed Massachusetts to spending $1 billion over 10 years to jump-start the life sciences sector — attracting the best minds, research facilities and the venture capital funding.

By most yardsticks, Patrick’s gamble has paid off. Massachusetts, and the greater Boston area in particular, are now seen as a top life sciences hub.

For Zon, and other life sciences leaders, the support has been transformative.

In 2013, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which is charged with distributing the state funds, awarded a $4 million grant to Children’s Hospital to help establish the Children’s Center for Cell Therapy. Some of the money went toward replacing the original aquaculture facilities at Zon’s lab with state-of-the-art systems.

Zon said the changes helped him pursue stem cell therapies — taking tissues grown from stem cells aimed at thwarting specific diseases and transplanting them into a diseased organ. Zon said his lab helped develop a drug for treating a blood disease known as Diamond Blackfan anemia in part by developing…