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Why a wave of biotechs are setting up in Watertown, Massachusetts

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A little further downriver from Boston's central life sciences hub sits the city of Watertow...

A little further downriver from Boston's central life sciences hub sits the city of Watertown, Massachusetts, which is following in the footsteps of its larger neighbouring cities of Cambridge and Boston and is swiftly becoming a home for innovative biotechs. This comes as several life science giants as well as newer start-up ventures have announced investments and new site developments in the area. But what is it about the city that makes it the ideal biotech hotspot?

Why Watertown?

Massachusetts has the highest concentration of biotech jobs in the whole of the US, and more than 113,000 life science professionals call the state home. Watertown’s rise has been driven largely by the need for expansion out of Boston’s city walls, due to the saturation of Biotech companies leaving little physical space available for new infrastructure.It has similarities to when Cambridge began establishing its own biotech cluster; businesses were looking for space to set up shop close to an area already buzzing with life science innovation.

The expansion comes with other benefits for firms, too - Watertown boasts significantly lower rental and land costs than that of Boston, whilst still being accessible for the talent pool there. The area lends itself particularly well to firms looking to onboard junior talent, with Massachusetts’ impressive educational institutions in fairly close proximity, and the lower cost of living being a potential draw for those straight out of academia.

Big names setting up in Watertown

Significant investment has and continues to be made in Watertown. Landmark Bio began construction of a 40,000 ft2 manufacturing facility at the end of 2021, a facility that will house multiple manufacturing and development spaces under one roof. Among other institutions, it’s set to be used by MIT faculty’s research of advanced cell-based and RNA-based therapies for diseases such as cancer. Landmark Bio’s mission is to serve as a forum for workforce development to workers in Massachusetts, with Watertown as the epicentre. Another biotech now based in Watertown is Affini-T Therapeutics, which has received significant investment this year to accelerate their work in the cell therapy space. The $175m raised in Series A funding will be used to support their manufacturing infrastructure in Watertown.

FORMA Therapeutics, another high-profile, Watertown-based biotech is currently in the process of being acquired by the giant Novo Nordisk for an estimated $1.1bn. This will again enhance FORMA’s potential to develop in Watertown. What this means for those working in biotechThe expansion of Boston's biotech scene into areas like Watertown further cement this area of the country as the place to be for candidates. This is a pivotal time for experienced and early-stage professionals who are looking to base themselves within a well-connected and promising area, and be in a position where professional opportunity is rife and diverse. "[Watertown] is quickly becoming a dynamic and flourishing biotech community. Watertown is an ideal location in that it's centrally located and has a great urban feel with fantastic amenities" Gerhard Koenig, President and CEO of Arkuda TherapeuticsUndoubtedly, central Boston remains the central hub for life sciences, but as a candidate, you no longer need to choose between basing yourself in the city to be close to work or living more rurally and commuting in.

Instead, as opportunity like this keeps opening in more rural areas, you have greater flexibility about where you choose to live and work. From a relocation perspective, this is a great chance to be in the biggest biotech state in the US, without paying the prices of the big city of Boston and still being a 15-minute drive from the centre. Watertown is an ever-progressing city which will be home to breakthrough research and eventually some of the highest calibre of life science talent in the world.

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