Montgomery County's biohealth industry taps a knowledge workforce and proximity to major federal agencies
As home to more than 500 biohealth companies, ranging from small start-ups to multinational conglomerates, Montgomery County is a hotbed for health care innovation and plays a major role in the research and development of new drugs, therapeutics, biologics, vaccines and medical devices that are helping improve the health and quality of life of people not only in the region but around the world.
Some of the industry’s leading corporations, such as GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Emergent BioSolutions, United Therapeutics and Qiagen, have operations in Montgomery County, attracted to the region’s business amenities, a growing network of researchers and access to a pipeline of skilled talent.
“Montgomery County possesses some of the most valuable life sciences assets, resources, and capabilities in the country,” says Daniel J. Abdun-Nabi, president and chief executive officer of Emergent BioSolutions, a gaithersburg-based company that develops medical countermeasures for chemical and biological threats, such as anthrax.
Abdun-Nabi can tick off a list of biohealth advantages that Montgomery County possesses: A highly skilled workforce; a critical mass of cutting-edge life sciences companies; entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who operate in an environment that fosters business and venture capital investment; top researchers and scientists in leading academic medical centers, universities, and clinical and research hospitals; a wide state-of-the-art manufacturing base; a desirable quality of life; and an efficient transportation infrastructure to support a vibrant and dynamic ecosystem.
Montgomery County’s biohealth industry also benefits from business-friendly resources, such as BioHealth Innovation, which helps fledgling companies connect to early-stage capital and assets needed to commercialize research and bring new discoveries to market. Another resource, the Germantown Innovation Center, a biohealth business incubator, houses some 23 start-ups.
Both organizations have nurtured breakout companies. Seraxis, a tenant of Germantown Innovation Center, for example, developed proprietary technologies that use cell therapy to treat diabetes.
“Montgomery County understands the importance of early-stage companies,” Adbun-Nabi says. “By way of just one example, the Germantown Innovation Center fills a gap by giving early-stage life science companies access to affordable wet labs and mentoring they otherwise might not have.”
The Right Address
Proximity to federal agencies, academic and research institutions, key federal research labs, patient advocacy groups and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) also contribute to the overwhelming success of the biohealth industry in Montgomery County.
Richard Bendis, president and CEO of BioHealth Innovation, says access to major federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases are differentiators for Montgomery County.
“Montgomery County is unique because we have the largest and most important regulatory body in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” he says. “We also have the largest life sciences research institution in the world located here — the National Institutes of Health.”
The NIH has a dual mission of trying to enhance science and quality of life, but at the same time facilitating commercialization of that research into the marketplace.
“We have the ability with our companies to take good scientific research from the lab and get it into the marketplace where it benefits patients’ lives and increases the quality of life for all individuals.” Bendis says. “All of these [assets] are important to having a vibrant ecosystem in this industry. There is no other county in the country that can replicate these assets.”
Diving Into the Talent Pool
Yet another of Montgomery County’s industry-supporting assets is its highly skilled workforce — thanks in large part to the programs of Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove. The Bioscience Education Center at Montgomery College is a breeding ground for future generations of biohealth professionals.
In addition, the Universities at Shady Grove, with its cutting-edge biosciences facility and programs, feeds the pipeline of talent to both established and emerging life sciences companies.
“Education and workforce development are crucial components of our industry’s future. Both the private sector and the higher education community share critical roles in making Maryland a world-class life sciences destination,” Abdun-Nabi says.