Can the Maryland region become a top biotech hub by 2023?

Drugmakers and tech organizations combine forces to promote Maryland's biotech industry.

The Maryland region is one of the richest sources of health care knowledge and research innovation in the world. Here you can find more than 800 life sciences companies, 70 federal labs, regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and elite academic, medical and research institutions. Most of these resources are unique to our area and cannot be replicated anywhere else in the U.S.

Our region consistently ranks among the top seven biotech clusters in the U.S. But it is our ambitious goal to grow our sphere of influence — as the life sciences companies, universities and agencies located here continue their ongoing collaboration to more quickly bring new, life-changing medicines to patients. Our goal is to place our region among the top three biotech hubs in the U.S. by 2023. To achieve this objective, we intend to develop a comprehensive strategic plan and a branding strategy that clearly portrays the benefits of the Maryland region as the heart of the biotech industry.

There are distinct advantages to becoming a leading biotech cluster — and the higher a cluster ranks, the greater the benefits reaped and the more self-sustaining its growth becomes. Top biotech hubs provide the most fertile environment for collaboration and for driving innovation and productivity through the fast-paced exchange of information and ideas between academic, industry and government researchers. Moreover, the $30 billion of research and development funding by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is concentrated heavily within the top U.S. biotech hubs. Leading hubs also invite government incentives to encourage further growth. In addition to attracting and retaining highly skilled workers from across the country (and the world), the highest ranked biotech clusters also entice up-and-coming entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to relocate or branch out to the region, and encourage major pharmaceutical and biotech companies to operate within these clusters.

We know we face challenges achieving our goal. We're competing with other biotech hubs — not only in the U.S., but globally — for talent, funding, partnerships and other resources. Nearly every state in the U.S., most developed countries and many developing countries are targeting the bioscience industry as a driver for growing their economies. While other top-ranking biotech hubs, such as Boston and San Francisco, may have experienced a more organic evolution to top-tier status, our region is unique in the sense that it spans two states and the District of Columbia, all of which have differing governments, values and cultures, adding greater complexity. The size of our region also presents geographical limitations, with more distance between existing and potential collaborators.

We can overcome these challenges by fully embracing the values of collaboration and openness, and recognizing that our goal cannot be realized by industry, academia or government alone. Our strategic plan calls for a concerted effort to think across geographic and ideological boundaries, and to arrange the "ingredients" of our biotech ecosystem together in new and innovative ways. Basically it requires all parties in our region to effectively work together and leverage their knowledge, networks and assets.

To this end, AstraZeneca and its global biologics research and development arm, MedImmune, along with BioHealth Innovation and the Tech Council of Maryland have committed to developing and supporting a strategic plan that will leverage our region's intellectual capital and accelerate the commercialization of new research through collaborative efforts. This plan includes encouraging venture capital firms to invest and establish a local presence in the region, providing resources and educational initiatives to entrepreneurs to help them gain better access to this capital and devising new methods for attracting, developing and retaining talent in the region. By doing this, we believe we will not only stimulate the formation of new businesses, but grow and retain existing businesses, only further strengthening the cluster and providing a positive economic ripple effect to the region through corporate tax revenues, job creation, global recognition and more.

As the Maryland region grows in prominence in the life sciences market, there will be a more vibrant ecosystem that benefits us all.

Dr. Reg Seeto is a Medimmune vice president and head of partnering and strategy, Rich Bendis is president and CEO of BioHealth Innovation, and Phil Schiff is CEO of the Tech Council of Maryland. They may be reached at TCMinfo@techcouncilmd.com.

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