Life Science Cares Boston, a nonprofit organization that aims to harnesses the collective power of the industry to fight inequity, said Monday that it’s expanding.
At the annual J.P. Morgan HealthCare Conference, held virtually this year, Life Science Cares said it had launched affiliate groups in San Francisco and San Diego, with the conference’s title sponsor, J.P. Morgan, committing $1 million to the Bay Area outpost.
“It’s a real stake in the ground,” said Sarah MacDonald, executive director of the Boston branch. “In San Francisco, the life-science industry is going to make a difference, and with the early support, it allows us to jump-start it.”
Rob Perez founded Life Science Cares in Boston five years ago to address a stark contrast: While the Boston area is known as a life-science hub with thousands of high-paying jobs, there are also high levels of income inequality in the region.
“With life sciences being such a big part of the Commonwealth, there was some question about ‘Hey, where are you guys?’ ” he said, in reference to what companies were doing to help address food insecurity and other issues. “There was a ton of engagement from the community, but many of our companies are small, not profitable, and really didn’t have the means to be able to give back.”
Life Science Cares Boston aggregates philanthropic efforts, from fund-raising to volunteering, across more than 400 companies, with the goal of making meaningful contributions to nonprofits working to combat hunger, cycles of poverty, and educational disparities. The group also coordinates paid internships for first-generation college students and students of color, who often can gain entry to the industry.
“It’s getting involved with your arms and your legs, and that tends to have a bigger impact than just writing the check alone,” Perez said. “We are proud to provide funding to our nonprofit partners, but our impact is much more than that. We try to engage people in solving the problems.”
In 2020, Life Science Cares Boston made more than $2 million in grants to local nonprofits, with half of the money used to address COVID-19 and its economic impact. More than 50 companies in the Boston area — including Alnylam, Biogen, and Moderna — are considered “members,” which mean they make a regular financial contribution.
The affiliates in San Francisco and San Diego will apply the Boston model to their cities, much like the Philadelphia branch did when it started in December 2019. In its inaugural year, that group gave $570,000 to more than a dozen nonprofits.
All affiliates have an executive director, a board of directors, and a broader board of advisers, which decides which nonprofits to support. Industry executives fund 100 percent of Life Science Cares’ administrative costs.
MacDonald noted that biotech companies are in the business of addressing complex health issues, from COVID-19 to cancer to rare diseases.
“What if we took the same mentality of tackling COVID and finding a vaccine, and wrapped it around the issue of food insecurity?” she said. “It is not impossible, what we are talking about.”
Perez said executives appreciate having an avenue to support the communities they work in, since they are “part of an industry where the tide has really risen, but not everyone has been able to grow with that tide.”