Robert Sherman, the U.S. Ambassador to Portugal, and Manuel Caldeira Cabral, the Portuguese Minister of Economy, traveled to Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Dec. 19 and 20 to discuss transatlantic synergies with Europe in the biotechnology sector. They were joined by a first-class group of representatives from Portuguese biotech companies and investors in a visit co-organized by AICEP-Portuguese Trade and Investment Agency, Portugal Ventures, the U.S. Embassy in Portugal, and the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, with the participation of the MIT Portugal Program.
The two-day visit started with an event entitled, “Portugal Day at MassBio,” at the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio). At the gathering, Portuguese partners from startups in the life sciences sector — including FASTinov, Stemmatters, Gene PreDiT, Immunethep, and doDOC — together with Portuguese and American investors, discussed how Portugal is developing a vibrant biotech industry and creating a successful startup ecosystem with partners around the globe. Elazer Edelman, from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was the keynote speaker at the event, presenting a superb overview of the efforts and work done in the European and American health care systems, their impact on age distribution, and the changes in the care delivery paradigm — focused on an aging population — that will require new medications, devices, and methods. Edelman highlighted improvements that the Portuguese scientific and entrepreneurial communities are making to adjust to this new paradigm. The event also featured Sherman; Caldeira Cabral; Robert Coughlin, president and CEO of MassBio; Bruce Tidor, director of the MIT Portugal Program; and José Velez Caroço, consul general of Portugal in Boston.
On the second day of the official visit, the group of entrepreneurs visited Sanofi Genzyme, a world-class pharmaceutical company with facilities in Allston. The group made a tour to the premises and interacted with different stakeholders in conversations about the dynamics of the U.S. market, while Sherman, Caldeira Cabral and Velez Caroço went to different labs at MIT. Their visit started at “Beaver Works” with Professor Douglas Hart, who is also the innovation and entrepreneurship faculty lead for the MIT Portugal Program. Joost Bonsen, lecturer in human dynamics at the MIT Media Lab, presented the evolution of MIT from its academic conception to an entrepreneurial institution.
The tour continued later at the lab of Institute Professor Robert Langer, where the delegation had the chance to discuss firsthand with researchers topics such as groundbreaking techniques for controlled drug release and nano-biomaterials. The next stop was at the MIT Stata Center, where the group joined researchers to design and develop robots for industrial, military, and space activities. The visit ended with a meeting hosted by the dean of the School of Engineering at MIT, Ian Waitz — bringing together the community of MIT Portugal faculty and PhD students currently staying at MIT. Attendees had the chance to share their experience of their time at MIT, as well as the evolution and impact of their research.
“Companies in Boston are strongly interested in investing in Portugal and this trip allowed us to demonstrate — right at the largest research centers in the health and biotechnology sector — the vitality of Portuguese startups in these areas,” said Caldeira Cabral. “This was also an opportunity to disclose the work in progress at Portuguese universities and hospitals, and to open a door for future collaborations and joint ventures to endorse knowledge and consequently transform it into innovative products and services.”