Can’t dribble, shoot or pass? Don’t worry. Everyone makes the team.
That was the straightforward appeal issued at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR), the Cambridge, Mass.-based research division for Novartis, when it put together a team for the annual Bio-Ball event, a one-day basketball tournament that has raised nearly $400,000 for Special Olympics Massachusetts since it began six years ago.
The event matches teams from 16 Massachusetts pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies with Special Olympics athletes to compete in individual skills, such as dribbling or free-throw shooting, and a five-on-five game tournament.
“We saw this as an opportunity to give back to an organization that does a lot for people who need it,” said Jeff Lockwood, global head of communications for NIBR and team captain for the event. NIBR has participated in the tournament for the past five years. “We as a company are very active in the community and are always looking for opportunities to get our associates involved in community-related activities. That’s an important part of who we are as a company.”
The Bio-Ball organization, which was founded by individuals who work in biotechnology and other fields that support the industry, holds the tournament each spring to bring together two communities both working to improve the lives of those with illness and disabilities. While biotechnology companies work to discover and create medicines that can improve health, Special Olympics Massachusetts helps individuals with intellectual and other closely-related disabilities by giving them opportunities to develop physical fitness and demonstrate courage.
“Bio-Ball provides a real opportunity for the biotech industry to give back to the community,” said Sylvia Beaulieu, vice president of Business Development at The Richmond Group, which builds R&D facilities for biopharmaceutical companies, and a Bio-Ball planning committee member. “It strengthens the partnership between Special Olympics and the biotech companies as they both work toward common goals of a brighter future.”
Bio-Ball Tournament organizers believe the resilience of the athletes reminds those in the biotechnology community why they work so hard as an industry to realize their goal of curing disease. “The Special Olympics is a high-quality operation,” said Praveen Tipirneni, vice president of corporate development at Lexington, Mass.-based Cubist Pharmaceuticals, and a team captain for Bio-Ball. Cubist also participated last year. “This event allows you to work with individuals with disabilities and get to know them personally. Also note that ‘disabilities’ is relative. There’s a good chance that the Special Olympics team we were paired with last year could beat us.”
More than 600 players and volunteers will participate in this year’s Bio-Ball Tournament on March 26, which will be videotaped and broadcast on YouTube. The day begins with an opening ceremony, during which an athlete is honored and talks about what it’s like to be part of Special Olympics. “It’s incredibly moving. You have a gym full of people really celebrating this person’s success,” said NIBR’s Lockwood. “It’s a great day of sharing and a celebration of the human spirit. It sounds kitschy, but it’s true.”
The funds raised support the more than 1,500 Special Olympics Massachusetts athletes who participate in the basketball program and other activities. In addition to Novartis and Cubist, Massachusetts companies involved in the event are Agios Pharmaceuticals, Alnylam, AMAG, AVEO, Genzyme, Infinity Pharmaceutials, Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, MassBio, Momenta Pharmaceuticals, Parexel International, Shire, Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, Vertex and Zalicus.
The Bio-Ball committee includes Gregg Beloff, a financial consultant to life science companies; Eric Spindt, managing associate at Strategic Financial Partners and Ted Lyon, senior vice president of corporate advisory services at FHO Partners.