Gov. Charlie Baker touts grants, teases legislation at biotech conference
BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker announced to a biotech conference Monday that the state would be investing $6.7 million in capital funding into nine projects focused on imaging, cancer, neuroscience and drug discovery research, and foreshadowed legislation furthering efforts to create a digital health record database.
Baker dropped by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council's digital health conference at the Intercontinental hotel to talk up Massachusetts's role in the growing digital health field.
Massachusetts is "an ideal location for digital health firms" because of health institutions, academic research and development centers and access to venture capital, Baker said. McKinsey estimates the digital health sector will grow to become a more than $350 billion industry by 2025, according to the administration.
The $6.7 million in investments from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center in "data-driven, cross-sector" projects is the "first step in this particular direction," Baker said.
The money was steered toward non-profits that partnered with at least one for-profit life sciences company in Massachusetts, and was awarded through the center's "Bits to Bytes " capital program. The roughly $750,000 awards will be bolstered by $13 million in non-profit and industry matching funds.
The recipients range from Brigham and Women's Hospital, where Dr. Kevin Elias is researching neural networks for early diagnosis of cancers in women, to the Broad Institute, where researchers are trying to use big data sets to improve approaches to cardiovascular diseases, and a UMass Medical Center study into the use of artificial intelligence for high-resolution neurovascular imaging to improve stroke treatment.
"This is the first step in this particular direction and I think we believe it has tremendous possibility going forward," Baker said.
He also told attendees that the HLTH conference, a national health innovation conference, would be leaving Las Vegas for Boston in 2021, earning a round of applause. Conference organizers first announced the move earlier this summer, and Baker said it will help Massachusetts expand its footprint in the digital health sector.
"That's a big event and really a big deal and I'm sure it wasn't because of the weather that they decided to move," Baker said of the HLTH conference.
The conference, which is planned for October this year at the MGM Grand Conference Center and at Caesars Forum in 2020, will move to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in October 2021, according to its website.
The Digital Health Council, which was created by Baker through executive order and is chaired by Housing and Economic Development Secretary Michael Kennealy and Vertex CEO Jeffrey Leiden, also timed the public release of a report on digital health to the MassBIO conference.
Baker called the report, which was first published online Monday but is dated July 2019, the administration's "roadmap" for helping the diverse digital health industry grow in Massachusetts.
The recommendations include establishing a digital health cybersecurity group, supporting the growth of MassChallenge HealthTech, and to establish a "preeminent" digital health conference in Massachusetts.
Another of the report's recommendations is for the Massachusetts eHealth Institute to continue working with private partners toward the creation of a distributed data network.
The network, Baker said, will allow for the easy transmission of information between patients and providers and give doctors immediate access to historical medical records and diagnoses of their patients, improving patient care.
"That's something we've been spending a lot of time with the council and others on and something I think you'll probably see incorporated in legislation we file later this year," Baker said.
The administration has been known to be working on a health care bill for months, but the timing and scope of the legislation remains unclear.