By Donald Fry
For bioscience entrepreneurs and advocates who are working to strengthen bioscience industry growth in Maryland, meeting Peter Greenleaf, the new president of Gaithersburg-based MedImmune, and listening to what he has to say is both refreshing and enlightening.
In a time of global recession MedImmune, Maryland’s most prominent bioscience company, is on a hiring binge. Since 2007, when it was acquired by global pharma giant AstraZeneca to become, in effect, its global biologics unit, MedImmune has hired more than 1,000 employees worldwide and estimates that it will hire 1,000 more during the next two years.
During the last three years, MedImmune has almost tripled its portfolio — not just in projects, but in capital and infrastructure growth as well, Greenleaf recently told more than 100 people who crammed into the UMB BioPark conference center for a lecture that was part of the Greater Baltimore Committee’s bioscience speaker series.
“We’re aggressively hiring people in the area,” Greenleaf said. “We’re hiring an average of a couple hundred people every year,” he adds, noting that this has fostered “a great relationship” with the governor.
“Last year we hired more than 600 people. This year we’re projected to hire more than that,” he says. “It’s good for the local economy, for sure.”
In these economic times, this is about as refreshing as business news gets.
The enlightenment for bioscience advocates is that MedImmune is a living, breathing corporate example of a fully-integrated company in our midst that has made it through to the other side of the bioscience business experience.
From its founding in 1988 — prompted by a breakthrough mononuclear antibody — MedImmune successfully made its way past “death valley” and through the early-stage rigors of raising investment capital and going public three years after being incorporated.
Along the way, it has been a company of “firsts,” says Greenleaf. Its product Synagis is the only single cell-based antibody approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help prevent an infectious disease.
Another MedImmune product, FluMist, is the first advance in flu technology in 60 years and the only nasal spray flu vaccine approved in the U.S.
The company has grown from a $2.5 million concept two decades ago into a global bioscience leader with nearly $1.5 billion in annual revenue in 2006 and projected plans to make more than $500 million in capital investment over the next few years.
Greenleaf now faces the challenge of managing a bioscience company of this size. “It’s hard to keep your entrepreneurial roots as you’re trying to grow at that pace,” Greenleaf says.
The challenges he cites include rising demands of the health care system, higher costs that make it harder to develop drugs, and an aging population that is experiencing a growing resistance to drugs.
The regulatory environment is becoming “increasingly more difficult,” both from a public funding standpoint, but also on the benefit-risk side of the equation “where any new drug development is becoming a harder and higher hurdle to meet,” Greenleaf says.
Nevertheless, the business potential for biologics is there. Greenleaf predicts a “material flip” during the next 20 years in the top 100 drugs on the market. Right now, biologics comprise approximately 10 percent of medication on the market, but projections show that eventually 50 percent of total drug sales will come from biologic products.
So if you look “as to why AstraZeneca – that never had a position in biologics – wanted to acquire a company like MedImmune, that’s the business side,” says Greenleaf. “The future really is biotechnology products and vaccines.”
In Baltimore and Maryland, a top center for bioscience research in the nation, that future screams opportunity for bioscience entrepreneurs.
It also underscores the urgency for the business community and government to work together to ratchet up our efforts so that entrepreneurs can aggressively convert our wealth of research into economic development and jobs through bioscience industry growth here rather than somewhere else.