NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — Maryland has recently launched an initiative that it hopes will attract new life-sciences businesses to the state while enticing existing ones to stay put, according to government officials.
Maryland lawmakers have agreed to create a 15-member committee to help develop a plan to attract life science companies, promote collaboration among research institutions, obtain state and federal funds for businesses, and provide capital to the state’s federal institutions, including the National Institutes of Health.
A bill creating the committee cleared the Senate on Feb. 26 and the House of Delegates on March 9. Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to review the bill before the legislative session ends April 9.
O’Malley is a Democrat and former Baltimore mayor who unseated Republican Robert Ehrlich last November in part by promising more funding for biotech, including $10 million for stem-cell research.
In his Jan. 31 State of the State address, he called the proposed Life Sciences Advisory Board “a potential precursor to a Life Sciences Authority” that would help Maryland expand its biotech base.
Such an authority would act as a one-stop shop for biotech businesses looking to move to or expand in the state, rather than pursuing separate state and local approvals, according to state government officials.
They hope it will help Maryland add to its other biotech selling points: its concentration of research institutions, proximity to Washington D.C. and its work force.
There are currently 57,000 people working in 370 biotech companies in Maryland, according to state records
According to state officials, Life Sciences Authority would help reduce departures like Intradigm, a drug maker that grew with help from state funding, including a $500,000 loan from DEBD’s Enterprise Investment Fund in 2000 and a $250,000 DBED loan five years later.
But California’s larger pool of potential employees, and the arrival of a new majority private equity investor behind a $16-million series A financing round announced last November, compelled Intradigm late last year to relocate its headquarters to Palo Alto, Calif.
By the end of the year, Intradigm expects to consolidate its remaining seven employees in Rockville, Md., with the 13 already in Palo Alto.
“To have a biotech authority is a great idea. To have something centralized for biotechnology would be a good thing.”
“It’s a game of numbers. If you look at the pool of companies with people that have experience in drug development in an area like the Bay Area compared to Maryland, there’s certainly a much bigger pool,” said Mohammad Azab, Intradigm’s president and CEO, who joined the company last July. “It was just a matter of the company growing to a size where it needed to hire new people with different skill sets. And the new investors thought it would be easier to find that here in the Bay Area.”
A timeframe for the authority would be up to the board, said Robert McGlotten, Jr., DBED’s assistant secretary of business development. “It’s an idea in concept, and I think the administration is very focused on wanting to take small but very visionary steps. We haven’t got to that point yet with the decision to create an actual authority.”
The sooner, the better, according to a former regional economic development official.
“If the board takes a very strategic view focusing on what needs to be done, and operates in a short time frame, it would be a great idea,” said Nipon Das, a director with the New York office of Bionest Partners, an M&A advisory and investment strategy firm based in Paris. “With the industry in a state of consolidation, I don’t think there’s a lot of time to waste.”
Until last year Das worked to attract life sciences companies to and near Maryland’s largest city as executive vice-president of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore.
The idea of the authority sounds good to the medical director of a startup biotech company. Darryl Carter, medical director of drug maker Nora, was assistant professor of cellular and molecular medicine at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine before leaving to launch Nora with managing partner Chris McClain.
Nora is based at the Emerging Technology Center in Canton, Md., a nonprofit incubator operated by the Baltimore Development Corp., a cog in the state’s effort to attract biotech startups. So far the company has pocketed $235,000 from three state and public-private agencies, including DBED, TEDCO’s Maryland Technology Transfer Fund, and the Maryland Industrial Partnerships program.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Carter said. “Right now the agencies are not strictly biotech. They’re devoted to technology more broadly – electronics, computer technology. To have a biotech authority is a great idea. To have something centralized for biotechnology would be a good thing.”
“What we need is the cultural mindset and commitment that this is the direction that we’re going to be one of the nation’s — one of the world’s — leaders [in biotech]. We’ve got all the ingredients for the stew. We’ve just got to put the stew together,” said Delegate Dan Morhaim, a physician.
He said there is already “a lot of biotech in the state. But they’ve grown up on their own, by good fortune and by chance. What Maryland needs to do is wake up, look at how well we’re doing, and say, ‘We can do better,’” Morhaim added.
In 2006, Maryland’s biotech industry was the fourth-largest in the country behind North Carolina, Massachusetts, and California, according to Ernst & Young.
Growing Interior Border
Although Montgomery County’s Interstate 270 corridor accounts for much of Maryland’s biotech activity, the industry is planning to expand elsewhere in the state.
The University of Maryland Baltimore is expected this fall to complete the second 215,000-square-foot building at its 10-building, 1.2-million-square-foot BioPark campus. Also in Baltimore, Forest City has drawn Johns Hopkins Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences as an anchor tenant to its first 277,000-square-foot building, which is part of its 1.1-million-square-foot, 31-acre Science + Technology Park and is adjacent to the research giant’s medical campus.
In Silver Spring, meantime, the FDA is consolidating within the federally owned White Oak campus its Offices of the Commissioner and regulatory affairs, the centers for Drug Evaluation and Research, Devices and Radiological Health, Biologics Evaluation and Research, and Veterinary Medicine.
The fourth of nine phases in the project was completed in February, when construction ended on a new engineering and physics laboratory. Some 2,110 FDA employees are now based at White Oak, with the number set to rise to 7,719 by 2012.
And along I-270 in Frederick, biotech MedImmune has begun the first of four stages in a $250-million expansion of its manufacturing plant. The first stage calls for 331,000 square feet of new space for up to 225 new employees and is set to open in 2009. Remaining phases entail 379,000 square feet more space and up to 840 additional jobs.
Key to success for those and other projects will be crafting a common agenda for biotech growth statewide, according to Lisbeth Pettengill, vice president for the Greater Baltimore Committee. Her group and the Tech Council of Maryland are among some 35 bioscience companies and business groups that have begun that task.
Earlier this year the Tech Council unveiled a public policy agenda that includes using the Biotechnology Investment Incentive Act to double to $12 million funding for early-stage companies, and increase the cap on the state R&D tax credit to $15 million from $6 million.
Other states, notably North Carolina, have done so with greater success, Pettengill acknowledged. “We’re a little bit behind the curve there, but not terribly. … We don’t have a freestanding entity through which all the initiatives through biosciences are vetted like the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.”