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Montgomery County, MD, Breeds Life Sciences Breakthroughs

Montgomery County is known worldwide as a center for biotech and life sciences innovation due to the cluster of research institutions and government agencies.

By Kathryn Royster on May 2, 2014

Rockville, MD
Rockville / Courtesy of National Institutes of Health

With more than 350 companies involved in the industry, Montgomery County is a discovery zone for biotechnology and life sciences. The county is a hub of innovation in all facets of life sciences, attracting and nurturing companies across a range of disciplines, including United Therapeutics, MedImmune/AstraZeneca, GSK and Macrogenics. Life sciences companies can leverage the deep pool of highly educated workers (with 4,000 to 5,000 post-graduates in STEM disciplines alone), as well as the presence of major federal agencies and institutions, highly regarded health systems and research organizations that promote collaboration and discovery. The region is home to the Food and Drug Administration, as well as the National Institutes of Health, which directs about $30.1 billion in research through 27 institutes.

Access Builds an Eco System

GlycoMimetics, a clinical-stage biotech company, has registered for an Initial public offering of stock, recognition of the potential of its research into treatments for sickle cell diseases and various cancers. “Montgomery County is a great place for biotechnology,” says CEO Rachel King, who is also chair of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the leading national industry trade and advocacy organization. “The quality of life, access to skilled employees, proximity to FDA, NIH and the federal government all make it a wonderful place for GlycoMimetics to do business.” Proximity to federal regulatory agencies and research institutions draws companies in various stages of product development. MedImmune, based in Gaithersburg, is the biologics research and development arm of pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

“MedImmune has benefited from the many natural advantages of being located in Montgomery County: a great talent pool, a quality of life that is ranked among the highest anywhere, proximity to government entities like the Food & Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health, and access to the best public schools and higher education in the country and the world,” says Liz Huntley, director of corporate citizenship and community relations. Sanaria Inc., is developing live vaccines to fight malaria, a disease that kills more than 220 million people a year around the world. Dr. Stephen Hoffman, Sanaria CEO, says Montgomery County is perhaps the best place in the country for the company to succeed.

“Why are we in Montgomery County? Because Montgomery County has the highest concentration of research teams working on malaria and particularly malaria vaccine development in the world,” Hoffman says. “Combine that with Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and the University of Maryland, [and] we really have a group of scientists and physicians that’s unparalleled in the world. For a company whose focus is the development of malaria vaccine, this is by far the best place in the world to work.” BioMaryland’s office provides information on funding and other resources, business plan feedback, access to market research, advocacy and other industry support.

Global Interest

Rich Bendis, president and CEO of BioHealth Innovation, a private-public partnership that focuses on commercializing biohealth innovations and increasing access to early-stage funding, says Montgomery County is developing an international reputation for biotech and life sciences based on interest from companies from China, Saudi Arabia and many other nations. “We have about 300 early-stage biotech companies based here, and they select Montgomery County because we have all the elements necessary to support a biohealth ecosystem,” Bendis says. The presence of global companies helps make the region attractive for additional investment. “If you’re going to develop a cluster in an industry sector, you need to have global companies present, and we have a good core group of biotech companies, and most are committed to expansion or growth,” Bendis says. Bendis also cited the county’s Investor Tax Credit Program, which offers credits to investors of companies that receive approval first from the Maryland Bio Investor Tax Credit Program. The Department of Economic Development also offers support to early-stage or existing businesses that want to do business in the region. “There are strong programs to incentivize investors to invest in early-stage biohealth companies at the county level,” Bendis says.

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