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Greater Baltimore, MD Biotech Sector Is Breeding Ground for Discovery

Discover how Greater Baltimore, MD biotechnology companies like BD Diagnostics, Pharma International and Nutramax, leverage the region's major academic research universities such as Johns Hopkins and proximity to key federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health.

By Phil Newman on September 24, 2015

When it comes to the biotechnology sector in Greater Baltimore, the numbers border on staggering, but so do the stories of life-altering breakthroughs at outfits ranging from globally recognized giants to bootstrap firms seeking to establish a foothold. As a global leader in the biotech field, the region is home to some 300 bio-related companies and 260,000 biohealth workers. What’s more, according to the Brookings Institution, Greater Baltimore boasts 283,000 STEM jobs –science, technology, engineering and mathematics – roughly one-fifth of the region’s workforce.

Opportunity on the Rise

Central Maryland is among the top five U.S. biohealth hubs, and the Washington-Baltimore region ranks sixth in U.S. venture-capital funding for biotech since 2008. The region leverages a roster of major academic research universities, proximity to key federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), access to venture and other funding, and vast resources including tech parks and incubator facilities. From mighty oaks – BD Diagnostics, Pharma International, Nutramax and others – to fragile seedlings, the biotech field finds fertile soil to grow here.

The momentum continues with startups launching, venture money flowing, headquarters opening, new labs and office buildings rising, and biotech creativity exploding. The region’s fast-growing firms include Immtech Inc., a New Windsor-based provider of integrated immunoassay design and manufacturing expertise to the immunodiagnostic and biotech industries, and Lupin Pharmaceuticals Inc., the Baltimore-based subsidiary of India-based pharma outfit Lupin Ltd. that produces high-quality, affordable generic medicines and branded formulations. Among the key reasons for Greater Baltimore’s strength is its robust support structure for biotech development, including Johns Hopkins’ Science + Technology Park (STP) and the BioPark at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB).

Impressive Body of Work

Johns Hopkins has ranked No. 1 in R&D expenditures among U.S. research universities for 35 years running, according to the National Science Foundation. In fiscal year 2013 alone, JHU’s expenditures totaled nearly $2.2 billion for medical, science and engineering R&D. Among the many firms to emerge from the university’s science and tech park is AnatomyWorks, which develops tools to create searchable databases of clinical, brain-MRI data and image-based search engines. To do so, it draws on multiple technologies and resources, including image-segmentation algorithms, brain atlas libraries, cloud-computation architectures, Web interfaces and clinical data.

“Inevitably, the human, data, and technology of AnatomyWorks are tightly related to those in clinical and research divisions in JHU,” says Susumu Mori, CEO of AnatomyWorks and a professor of radiology at the university’s School of Medicine.

“The close proximity to JHU – I mean, within walking distance – is essential,” he says of STP.

“The park provides a very flexible and scalable environment, starting with just one cubicle, access to office equipment and meeting rooms, which can easily accommodate growth. I feel very fortunate to have STP available for our startup company.”

Like many of its biotech peers, AnatomyWorks relies on grants, seed investors and other funding sources. In its case, a recent $1 million, small-business grant from NIH has provided a major boost.

“One of the most common bottlenecks for a startup is, of course, cash – cash to hire talented employees and support their activities,” Mori says.

“Our recent award hugely enhances our ability to develop our technologies and databases.”

In addition, the grant has helped AnatomyWorks initiate the FDA-approval process, he says. “As an awardee, we feel that it is our obligation to successfully develop our tools and introduce them to the market.”

BioPark Boom

At UMB’s BioPark, another vibrant community of life science companies and academic research centers is working to commercialize new drugs, diagnostics and devices while advancing biomedical research. The park features two wet lab/office buildings (with a third planned for 2016), a forensic medical center, and an MD Proton Treatment Center set for completion in 2015. The BioPark’s 35 tenant companies represent a range of specialty areas. They include Paragon Bioservices, a contract research and manufacturing organization (CRO/CMO) whose mission is to accelerate the development and manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals; InstantLabs, which has developed a groundbreaking medical-diagnostics technology that promises to reduce lab-test costs by 10 to 15 percent; and Ocular Proteomics, which is committed to preserving and improving sight for the millions of people with eye diseases by leveraging a new class of biomarkers found in vitreous fluid in the eye.

“Baltimore has rightfully claimed a lead position in the global innovation economy with much of the action – new companies, discoveries of new products, new jobs and talent – driven by success and growth in the life sciences,” says Jane M. Shaab, senior vice president and executive director of UMB’s BioPark.

“Baltimore benefits from the robust and ever-expanding research endeavors streaming from the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins,” she says. 

“We are a town fueled by scientific discovery and traveling at high speed.”

The BioPark, she says, houses and nurtures life sciences companies that are helping to make the region a center of discovery.

“We work every day to support and grow these enterprises,” Schaab says, “and build an unbeatable community of science in our city.”

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