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Home to a growing number of hospitals, universities and leading biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, the state of Massachusetts has built what some experts describe as the largest medical technology hub in the United States.

In 2020, venture capital investment in Massachusetts-based biopharma companies reached $5.8 billion, surpassing the previous record of $4.8 billion in 2018, according to The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio), an industry trade group representing more than 1,400 members in the life sciences sector.

In addition, 21 biopharma companies in the state went public in 2020, a 110 percent increase from 2019, totaling $3.9 billion raised by initial public offerings (IPO). These companies accounted for 32 percent of all U.S.-based biopharma IPOs by volume last year.

By providing services and support for the top life sciences cluster in the world, MassBio—based in Cambridge—has helped pave the way for the state’s broadening medical sector since its founding in 1985.

This can partially be credited to the organization’s purchasing consortium, known as MassBio Edge, which aggregates the purchasing power of members to offer pre-vetted competitive discounts, preferred terms and benefits, and customer service on products and services.

“Under MassBio Edge, we leverage the buying power of our member companies, and we negotiate agreements with vendors on behalf of our member organizations that they’re able to take advantage of,” says Kendalle Burlin O’Connell, president and COO for MassBio. “So, essentially the smallest biotech, maybe five to 10 people, could get the contract terms, pricing and conditions that a 30,000-person pharma company would get based on the full buying power.”

COMPREHENSIVE SERVICES

A major incentive for biotech firms under MassBio Edge has been the program’s partnership with Boston-based Veolia North America.

As a preferred partner for the savings and reward program, Veolia acts as an all-inclusive resource for transportation, disposal, training and regulatory guidance related to all types of hazardous, nonhazardous and regulated medical waste as well as low-level radioactive materials. The company also provides comprehensive recycling and waste-to-energy programs.

“We’ve been a partner with Veolia since 1996. Historically, that [partnership] had been focused on the chemical waste side of the business, but we expanded the agreement to include the regulated medical waste business [in 2020],” says O’Connell. “Obviously, that’s of huge importance to our membership being in the life sciences [sector], and Veolia has shown that they are a strong partner for us over the past 20 years. Ultimately, what the [expanded partnership] means for our members is that we have a one-stop-shop provider with Veolia to handle both chemical waste and regulated medical waste.”

With the life sciences industry in Massachusetts reaching record growth over the past decade as emphasis is put on gene therapy and biologics, O’Connell says the need for a full-service waste provider in the area has become even more important.

According to MassBio, biopharma firms in the state expect to add 10 to 20 million square feet of lab space over the next five years, creating upwards of 20,000 to 40,000 new jobs in the sector.

“Our membership is made up of companies of all shapes and sizes in this industry. It’s important for us to have a partner that can service small and emerging companies, but also scale up with them as they move through their lifecycle and become a large biotech company.” – Kendalle Burlin O’Connell, president and COO, MassBio

As the sole waste management service provider for all MassBio members, Veolia provides a complete range of services for life sciences, biotechnology, university, hospital, industrial and municipal customers through the company’s network of more than 45 sales, services, treatment and disposal facilities in the U.S.

“The people at MassBio have clarity about the needs of their members and can effectively communicate [to] us about what their needs are, and our group has the technical expertise to make sure that we’re satisfying those needs,” says Bob Cappadona, executive vice president and COO for Veolia’s Environmental Solutions and Services division. “There’s a level of trust between the two groups to ensure that we’re delivering the services to the customers in a way that we can stand proud of.

“I think that relationship has worked well, whether it’s [dealing with] medical waste, hazardous waste, or frankly, [during] COVID, because we are committed to making sure that we can provide the services that we do in a way that is safe and appropriate for all involved. And, again, it all starts with communication between MassBio and Veolia.”

WORKING TOGETHER

Servicing a variety of MassBio members such as Harvard University, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer Inc. and Boston Children’s Hospital, Cappadona says finding a medical waste disposal solution for a company usually starts with a collaborative discussion with both MassBio and the member company.

“The development of our services is always very collaborative with what our customers need,” he says. “The first thing [we do] is take a look around at their environment. If you think about it, the individual who works in a refinery or chemical plant versus an individual who’s at a biotech or pharmaceutical company is going to have a very different environment. So, we’ve got to make sure that we’re very respectful of the surroundings that we’re operating in.”

Cappadona adds that the process also includes extensive training to ensure the safety of waste personnel, as well as employees working in the lab environment.

“The No. 1 thing is just making sure that we have a good, comprehensive understanding of the services we’re going to provide, where we’re going to provide them and making sure that we’re communicating to the customer how we’re going to do that to ensure safety and compliance,” he says.

Working closely with the major companies participating in developing COVID-19 vaccine research, Cappadonna says the company has taken a lot of pride in adapting its services to fit its customers’ needs.

“Depending upon the type of location and whether it’s a small research location or a large manufacturing facility, we’ve adapted to the needs of those companies both from a waste management standpoint, as well as a business environment standpoint,” he says. “In some cases, we’ve done decontamination activities, and in certain facilities, we’ve changed the frequency and the services we provide. But ultimately, we’ve ensured that our teammates and representatives are prepared in whatever they need to do in order to enter and operate those customer locations.”

In order to better handle the influx of medical waste throughout Massachusetts, Veolia has also partnered with MassBio and another third party for the opening of a new medical waste treatment facility in Boston.

According to O’Connell, the introduction of this facility was a major selling point for MassBio’s expanded partnership with Veolia given its close proximity to members and the environmental benefits it provides.

“The facility aims to provide a local option for treatment here in Boston and will reduce materials and resources being put on the road while also minimizing any risk of transport,” says Cappadonna. “It is newly permitted and currently in the ramp-up stage. We’re not at full capacity at this point, but it will be ramping up to full capacity soon.”

The author is the assistant editor of Waste Today and can be reached at hrischar@gie.net.