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Biotech's time is now


Maryland is poised to become a national leader in the biotechnology industry, and emerging fields of bioscience research -- such as aquaculture and agriculture -- hold promise for new job growth in the decade ahead.

That was the consensus of several keynote speakers at a conference yesterday for Maryland's biotechnology industry, government and academic leaders. The one-day conference in Ellicott City drew about 180 people.

The conference was organized so that leaders in Maryland's fast emerging biotechnology industry could share ideas about the problems they face and the direction that the industry should be headed.

Dr. Rita Colwell, president of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, was among the speakers, and she painted an upbeat vision of biotechnology's future in the state.

"There are exciting times ahead," said Dr. Colwell. "Maryland will be the biotech leader on the Atlantic. We will soon overtake Massachusetts."

She also predicted that the long years of research by many of Maryland's biotechnology companies would soon yield amazing new research findings -- and products.

And those findings and products should help stir up badly needed equity from investors and even the state, she said.

Dr. Colwell also said she expected new ventures -- and jobs -- to be created in Maryland by several under-explored, but promising fields of biotechnology that the state has targeted for research support.

Among them are the environment, electronics, agriculture and aquaculture.

Another keynote speaker yesterday, Maryanna Henkart, acting chair for the National Science Technology Council's biotechnology research committee, also said these fields had been targeted by the federal government as holding strong potential for research and product growth in the decade ahead.

Biotechnology research, Ms. Henkart noted, already has shown some successes in the field of agriculture, producing insect-resistant cotton and disease-resistant potatoes.

Meanwhile, Dr. Colwell said she thought Maryland's biotechnology industry could find potential in research and product development for another food source: marine life.

With worldwide demand for fish as a food source rising while marine populations are in a state of decline, aquaculture could be a gold mine for biotechnology, she said.

"Gene-therapy research, which numerous Maryland biotech companies are engaged in, also should soon yield ground-breaking findings," Dr. Colwell said.

"That will further bolster Maryland's biotechnology industry, as companies and academic institutions form partnerships globally to market and manufacture products.

"Gene therapy is clearly the next great wave for medicine. It's how diseases will be conquered in the near future."

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