USM Regents approve restructuring of UMBI Centers

The University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents June 19 approved recommendations to align the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI) centers with other USM institutions. The restructuring is expected to pave the way for more multi-disciplinary and collaborative research across the system and increase access to outside funding for research. It also is expected to yield a higher level of technology transfer, commercialization, and business start-ups, and thereby advance economic development statewide.

The approval came this morning at the board’s annual meeting at Frostburg State University. The action follows the recommendations of an ad hoc committee of regents appointed by Board Chairman Clifford Kendall in February to review UMBI’s mission and organization as well as consider alternative organization options.

“After a comprehensive and deliberative process, we have concluded that restructuring UMBI’s assets is the right thing to do,” said Kendall, who also chaired the ad hoc committee. “With a focus on collaboration-across disciplines and across institutions-and with recognition of the exceptional talent within the UMBI community and the system’s other institutions, this action will position USM to take fuller advantage of its system-wide strengths in the biosciences and to fuel the state’s knowledge economy even more.”

Established in 1985, UMBI’s areas of research include biotechnology’s application to human health, the marine
environment, agriculture, and protein engineering/structural biology. The institute currently comprises four centers: Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology (CARB) in Rockville; Center for Biosystems Research (CBR) in College Park; Center of Marine Biotechnology (COMB) in Baltimore; and the Medical Biotechnology Center (MBC) in Baltimore. UMBI also includes the Institute of Fluorescence (IOF) in Baltimore.

Following is a summary of the recommendations approved by the board.
• Establish a joint USM research center at CARB facilities in Rockville. The University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) will have administrative responsibility and will work with the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). The joint center will build on UMCP’s solid base in physics, engineering, chemistry, and computational sciences as well as UMB’s strengths in structural biology, protein design, and new drug discovery.
• Assign the resources of CBR to UMCP. This realignment will increase the level of inter-institutional collaboration that is already occurring between the university and CBR.
• Establish a joint USM research center at the COMB facility in Baltimore. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) will have administrative responsibility. UMBC will collaborate with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and UMB, particularly UMB’s Institute for Genome Sciences, to maximize the existing research programs and develop new ones in the environmental and genomic sciences. In addition, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore will have a role in the center.
• Assign the resources of the Medical Biotechnology Center to UMB. MBC is located on the UMB campus, home of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and its Institute for Human Virology. In addition, research here will be enhanced by collaboration with the bioengineering and computational faculty at UMCP.
• Assign the resources of the Institute of Fluorescence to UMBC. IOF is located in the COMB facility, which UMBC will administer. The institute already has strong collaborations with UMBC faculty.
• Assign the resources of UMBI’s K-12 educational programs to Towson University. Towson is well known for its focus on preparing allied health professionals and educators to teach in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics)-related fields.

Regents Norman Augustine, Patricia Florestano, Michael Gill, Orlan Johnson, and Frank Kelly served on the special committee. During the past few months, they reviewed the history and structure of UMBI. They also solicited the views of individuals and groups, including UMBI administrators, faculty, staff, and graduate students; members of the UMBI Board of Visitors; external scientists and administrators from higher education and government; and representatives from business and economic development organizations.

As a result of their comprehensive review, the committee found that “the organization of UMBI as a geographically dispersed, free-standing entity has created intractable problems.” These include the lack of scale of UMBI programs, isolation among UMBI’s research centers, lack of a critical mass of graduate and undergraduate students involved in UMBI research, and administrative inefficiencies.

In April, the committee asked USM institutions to propose “transformative uses of UMBI’s assets” and explain how the proposals would incorporate collaboration with other USM institutions, government agencies, and the biotechnology industry. The recommendations approved today build on what the committee concluded were the proposals’ most promising elements and the advice of expert evaluators.

“The Board of Regents is very mindful of its responsibility to help UMBI employees during this time and we are directing Chancellor Kirwan to establish a process to help staff through the transition,” said Kendall. USM will honor the tenure held by UMBI faculty members, and it is expected that administrative support staff will have the opportunity to remain in their positions through FY 2010. In addition, USM will engage all institutions in efforts to find employment opportunities as appropriate.

The board also has charged Kirwan to work with the UMBI center directors and the appropriate institutional presidents on memoranda of understanding (MOUs) outlining details of the future operations and collaborations. The chancellor will present the MOUs to the board by December 31, 2009, with the goal of completing final transactions by the end of fiscal year 2010.

“Today’s decisions by the board provide a tremendous opportunity for the University System of Maryland to increase the volume and impact of its basic and applied research in the biosciences,” said USM Chancellor William E. Kirwan. “This restructuring has the potential to double the research productivity of UMBI’s current assets within five years. (UMBI currently generates some $25 million in research activity annually.) Once these assets are joined with activities system-wide, USM will play an even greater role in positioning the State of Maryland as a national and international leader in the biosciences.”

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