Donald Fry: Maryland’s bioscience and technology industries are well worth nurturing

By Donald C. Fry

Why should state government aggressively nurture the development of the bioscience and technology industry in Maryland?

Because Maryland has extraordinary potential for growth in these industries that will make them major drivers of our state’s post-recession economic growth, say advocates for a strong biotech investment tax credit program and for the passage of the O’Malley administration’s proposed Invest Maryland initiative to generate $100 million in private investment funding for early-stage companies.

Maryland is lagging behind other competing states in making early-stage financing available in the bioscience and technology industry sectors, according to experts. That’s an economic development shortcoming that must be addressed in a state so rich in research and innovative ideas produced within its plethora of research facilities.

The effects of the recession have largely evaporated early-stage funding, say bioscience leaders in Maryland. Currently, there is potential demand for as much as $500 million in early-stage investment in Maryland’s bioscience and technology sector, estimates Robert A. Rosenbaum, president of TEDCO, the state’s technology economic development agency.

A good way to illustrate the value of bioscience investment initiatives, for example, is to look at Maryland bioscience companies that have made it through the early stages of their development are accomplishing, and to also look at what’s happening in the start-up bioscience community.

Remember, Maryland already has a substantial biosciences industry. There are more than 400 core bioscience companies in Maryland representing eight percent of the industry total in the United States. This is the second largest cluster of bioscience companies in the U.S.

About half of our companies are engaged in developing therapeutics. Another 25 percent provide research services, and remaining companies provide gene-based diagnostics, medical devices and R&D technology platforms. There are 45 Maryland companies engaged in 160 clinical trials.

Consider the following examples of what some are accomplishing.

Martek, a Columbia-based leading innovator in the development of nutritional products that promote health and wellness and one of Maryland’s largest and most profitable bioscience companies, was acquired in December by Royal DSM N.V. It was Royal DSM’s first acquisition after its successful transformation to a life sciences and materials sciences company. The acquisition is expected to produce increased revenues through expanded distribution, marketing and product development.

Baltimore-based Gliknik, which has been on a upward trajectory for several years, started this year off by announcing that it had raised $3.5 million in equity financing. Located at the UMB BioPark on Baltimore’s west side, Gliknik is a biopharmaceuticals company that is creating new therapies for patients with cancer and immune disorders. Its expertise is in modulation of the immune system to fight disease.

Profectus Biosciences, Inc., located in Baltimore’s Holabird Industrial Park, also reached both research and financial milestones. Profectus started Phase I clinical trials to assess the safety and immunogenicity of its multi-antigen HIV DNA Vaccine. Profectus received $4.4 million in grants last October to develop an HIV prophylactic vaccine. Profectus will use the funds to further evaluate its transition-state vaccine (TSV) approach that has generated significant protective responses in several pre-clinical models of HIV.

Of course, we are hoping that soon one of Maryland’s companies will have the next big blockbuster drug, and we may be close. Rockville’s Human Genome Sciences is seeking FDA approval for its lupus drug Benlysta. Late last year an FDA advisory committee voted 13-2 to recommend approval of Benlysta for sale in the United States. The FDA approved Benlysta on March 9, making it the first new approved drug for lupus in more than 50 years.

In addition to companies like Human Genome Sciences and Martek that are bringing products to market, start up companies continue to emerge from our research universities.

At the Science + Technology Park at Johns Hopkins in East Baltimore, two new companies developing Hopkins technologies have found a home in the park – Curveda and Personal Genomic Diagnostics. The new Lieber Institute, a private research foundation focused on new diagnostics and therapies for schizophrenia, is also located there.

At the UMB BioPark, the $44 million Maryland Forensic Medical Center is now housed in Building Four. The park will also be home to a new Proton Therapy Cancer Treatment Center.

It’s important to understand that Maryland is already a leader in bioscience. The challenge is to keep that leadership position in a highly competitive global climate. This means making sure that key funding mechanisms like Maryland’s biotech tax credit are funded at reasonable levels and that innovative new funding sources such the Invest Maryland initiative are supported.

The companies and projects that I cited above are just a few examples of the innovation that is percolating in our bioscience and technology industries, even in these challenging economic times.

They give us glimpses of Maryland’s future as a national and global center for innovation. It’s a vision that is eminently attainable here. But we must make sure that we smartly nurture our own capacity to fully realize that vision.

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