Holding Biotechnology Hostage


How serious is Maryland about pursuing its goal of becoming a center for biotechnology and the new life sciences technologies of the 21st century?

The Schaefer administration is totally committed. So are other government officials, businessmen and academic leaders in the Baltimore and Washington regions. But the General Assembly? It seems to be having trouble making up its mind whether any money should be spent on such scientific ventures.

Take the Maryland Bioprocessing Center, a groundbreaking enterprise that holds enormous potential for turning this region into a hotbed of scientific development. Its purpose is to give budding scientific entrepreneurs a place to turn their biotechnology research into marketable products and to start full-scale production. The center would be leased to these researchers, who could avail themselves of the center's sophisticated equipment to help them obtain U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

The state legislature provided $1.5 million this spring to start designing the bioprocessing center, which eventually will cost $23 million to build and equip. But suddenly, a House subcommittee in Annapolis has balked at releasing these funds.

Why? Because lawmakers are concerned the center might not receive FDA approval. The legislature's own analysts weren't concerned, top academic and scientific leaders weren't concerned, but these legislators wanted assurance that if the center is built it will get approved by the FDA.

That's asking for the impossible. First of all, the FDA doesn't license facilities. And since the MBC hasn't even been designed yet, how can anyone predict if the center will meet future FDA inspection criteria?

We have a suggestion for the subcommittee: release the $1.5 million being held hostage and let planners at least design the building. There is plenty of time to ensure that the facility is built to meet all FDA guidelines for a biotechnology research laboratory.

When the House panel meets tomorrow, it should quickly approve design money for this one-of-a-kind research and production center. It is time for the General Assembly to stop playing obstructionist in Maryland's quest for economic growth and give a ringing endorsement to the bioprocessing center.

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