Innovation Ecosystem

Putting ‘life’ into the life sciences enterprise

An inaugural summit of the RI Life Science Hub promises to be well scripted

Photo by Elizabeth Burke Bryant, courtesy of X

As part of the lobbying effort at the State House, Alison Weber, MPH, Ph.D. student at the Brown School of Public Health, was accompanied by her daughter as one of the state's littlest advocates to support equitable policies for parents, babies and toddlers.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 5/20/24
When it comes to launching the life sciences enterprise in Rhode Island, the adage by author Thomas Pynchon applies: If they can get you to keep asking the wrong questions, the answers do not matter.
How many pediatricians in Rhode Island are reaching the retirement age, resulting in a serious gap in care providers? How many of the commercial real estate investments envisioned by the R.I. Life Science Hub will take place in Central Falls? How many of the attendees at the inaugural summit of the R.I. Life Science Hub reached the R.I. Convention Center by public transportation? Will the organizers of the R.I. Life Science Hub invite Providence-based author Rebecca Altman to discuss the history of plastics? What is the relationship between the breakdown of the state’s health care delivery system and the General Assembly’s failure to increase Medicaid rates for providers?
On June 18, at the annual meeting of the Community Care Alliance, ConvergenceRI will be honored for his journalism, a remarkable award to achieve. A health communications leader recently called ConvergenceRI “a barometer of truth.” For ConvergenceRI, who often has a difficult time accepting compliments, the recognition that many others value his work as a journalist in these disrupted times of news gathering is a testament to the choices made to engage in honest reporting, to refuse to be a mouthpiece, and to refuse to tell stories that are knowingly false. You can never say thank you enough.

PROVIDENCE – On Tuesday, May 21, there will be a major meteorological news storm occurring in downtown Providence, one that has been carefully put together and orchestrated by the fledging R.I. Life Science Hub for its inaugural summit at the R.I. Convention Center.

More than 400 stakeholders are expected to attend the four-and-and-half hour session, which will feature two principals from JLL [Jones Lang LaSalle], a Boston-based global consulting firm, Managing Director Robert Coughlin and Travis McCready, Head of Life Sciences, American Markets.

In case you might have forgotten or been distracted by the flow of news – broken-down bridges and broken-down behavior health systems for children in Rhode Island – JLL markets itself under the following slogan: “We shape the future of real estate for a better world.”

In 2021, JLL were commissioned by the Rhode Island Foundation to conduct a study of the potential to grow the life sciences industry in Rhode Island, written by Coughlin and McCready. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Another study planned to jump start life sciences sector in RI.”]

The 35-page study, entitled “The Life Sciences Opportunity for Rhode Island: Roadmap and Recommendations,” was completed in January of 2022. It included a phrase that assumed the proposed merger between Lifespan and Care New England was a fait accompli, a done deal, and talked about the proposed investment of $125 million by Brown University in the merged enterprise. As ConvergenceRI reported, “Translated, the consultants had already put their thumbs on the scale to weigh in on the benefits of the life sciences pipeline envisioned as part of the now-defunct merger.”

[Editor’s Note: The saga of JLL in Rhode Island would not be complete without mentioning that they were hired in late 2022 by Gov. Dan McKee to conduct a financial assessment of the proposal by Scout Urban LLC to redevelop the Cranston Street Armory putting the kibosh on the redevelopment plans, saying that the Scout proposal would leave the state $10.5 million in the hole.]

A staged ceremonial groundbreaking for the new state pubic health laboratory was held on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, featuring a veritable who’s who of Rhode Island politicos.  [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “An arranged marriage between public health, real estate.”]

The week before the staged groundbreaking for the new public health lab, on Friday, Oct. 21, the Rhode Island Foundation held an invitation-only news briefing [ConvergenceRI was not invited], featuring executives from JLL, authors of life sciences industry study. At the news briefing, Neil Steinberg, outgoing president and CEO at the Foundation and destined to be chosen the chair of the board of the new R.I. Life Sciences Hub, opined that “for all of his 45 years working in Rhode Island, the goal of a more robust biotech-life sciences sector has remained elusive,” as reported by The Public Radio’s Ian Donnis. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Life sciences lessons not yet learned.”]

The biggest lesson not yet learned, for an enterprise which has been showcased as an attempt to replicate the example of Massachusetts as becoming a life sciences industry hub is the failure by Rhode Island to develop a fact-based metric to mirror what Massachusetts has been doing for the last three decades: the Index of the Massachusetts Innovation Economy, launched in 1997.

Following the script
The Inaugural Summit of the Rhode Island Life Science Hub, an enterprise funded with $45 million in state funds, will have a number of predictable sessions: “Increasing Access to Capital; “Building Life Science Infrastructure”; “Enhancing Tech Tranfer”; and “Growing the Workforce & the Impact of AI.”

Last week, ConvergenceRI featured a deep dive into the history of the Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook, following a breakfast celebration of the 30th edition of the Factbook and its trove of data-driven findings. The 196-page 2024 Factbook tracked 70 indicators in five areas that affect the lives of children – family and community, economic well-being, health, safety and education for the state’s 39 cities and towns. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Do kids count?”]

The goal of the Factbook is to build “a framework to guide policy, programs, and individual services on behalf of children and youth,” according the study’s overview. Advocates for children positioned the Factbook to serve as a policy framework to lobby for more, better services and investments by the General Assembly. [Witness the “Strolling Thunder” campaign featured in the photograph for this story.]

The Factbook also featured a 26-page section that included Methodology, References, Committees and Acknowledgements, detailing the veritable army of local experts and professionals involved in the tasks of putting together the Factbook.

On Monday, May 13, the same day that the ConvergenceRI edition hit the airwaves, reviewing 10 years of Factbook findings, the federal U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha announced his team’s findings that the state was allegedly guilty of warehousing children at the Bradley Hospital, a division of Lifespan, highlighting the need for a better system of behavioral health and mental health care for children and teens at risk.

Two days later, Boston Globe Reporter Amanda Milkovits, in a scoop, reported that the state of Rhode Island was finally removing youth residents from the scandal-ridden St. Mary’s Home for Children “as soon as possible.”

The two stories – the warehousing of youth at Bradley Hospital and the removal of youth residents from St. Mary’s Home for Children—reveal the difficulty of translating facts and data into better investments and policy when it comes to protecting children at risk in Rhode Island.

Equally problematic, from ConvergenceRI’s viewpoint, is the failure of the news media to report on the policy decisions undertaken by the McKee administration when it comes to its refusal to support the network of community-based behavioral health agencies. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “A culture war on behavioral health infrastructure.”]

Which brings us back to the Inaugural Summit for the R.I. Life Science Hub.

The questions to ask  
To set the table for reporters who will be attending the Inaugural Summit, here are the questions to ask:

  •    When will Rhode Island launch its own version of the Index of the Rhode Island Innovation Economy?
  •    Where is the data to support the assumption that the real estate market in Rhode Island can support the commercial growth of the Life Sciences Industry in the state?
  •    Who are the leading biotech and life sciences companies in Rhode Island? Where does IlluminOss fit into that mix?
  •    Can any of the R.I. Life Science Hub leaders describe the pipeline they envision for tech transfer and patents? Who profits? How do patients benefit?
  •    Can you name three examples of research now underway in Rhode Island that will change the way that health care is delivered? 
  •    Have you ever visited the Institute for Applied Life Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst?

© | subscribe | contact us | report problem | About | Advertise

powered by creative circle media solutions

Join the conversation

Want to get ConvergenceRI
in your inbox every Monday?

Type of subscription (choose one):

We will contact you with subscription details.

Thank you for subscribing!

We will contact you shortly with subscription details.