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Montgomery County’s BioHealth Industry Thrives on Innovation

BioHealth growth fueled by access to funding, talent and major research assets

By Teree Caruthers on July 27, 2018

Rockville, MD
Rockville / Courtesy of National Institutes of Health

Montgomery County has long cemented its status as a leader in BioHealth research and discovery.

Home to many of the world’s leading BioHealth research institutions, including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and more than a dozen other federal centers of research, Montgomery County has a history of attracting and breeding innovative biotech businesses.

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Global powerhouses including Qiagen, GSK, United Therapeutics and AstraZeneca, and innovative startups, such as American Gene Technologies, Altimmune Inc. and Emergent BioSolutions, have found Montgomery County an ideal location.

The Right Address

A favorable business climate and host of resources that allow companies to grow and thrive continue to bring BioHealth growth and investment:

  • Biotech Laboratories USA, founded by a University of Maryland veterinary professor, established its lab manufacturing facility in Rockville, developing simple and rapid point-of-care tests to diagnose infectious and parasitic diseases of animals.

  • Mokobio ,Life Science Group located its U.S. headquarters and R&D center in Rockville. The Chinese company is developing a next-generation platform to enable more reliable in-vitro diagnostic tests.

  • Applied Biomimetic moved to Gaithersburg from Ohio to expand its R&D capabilities and manufacture its high-performance membrane platform for water, life science, enzyme, food and dairy separation applications.

A leading resource for companies is BioHealth Innovation (BHI), which helps companies commercialize their technologies and advance to market by introducing entrepreneurs to sources of capital and private investment. BHI operates the Business Innovation Network incubators/innovation centers in Rockville and Germantown.

Montgomery County Has Built A Firm Foundation for Success

“There is a strong cohort of experienced entrepreneurs and company executives who serve as mentors,†says Judith Costello, managing director of economic development for BioHealth Innovation.

BioHealth companies have access to incentives such as the add-on by Montgomery County to the Maryland Biotechnology Investor Incentive tax credit and an add-on by the county to the federal government’s NIH Small Business Innovation Research grant awards.

The Science of Networking

Costello says BHI also helps connect local companies with each other and to potential partners and collaborators.

“We have experienced entrepreneurs in residence and venture analysts on staff who will provide business plan feedback and help with the commercialization road map for early-stage companies or researchers trying to figure out how to get their technology from the bench to the lab to the patient,†she says.

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An advantage for fledgling BioHealth companies is access to a highly educated workforce. Some 6,000 workers in the region hold doctorate degrees in STEM disciplines.

The Universities at Shady Grove (USG) offers more than 80 undergraduate and graduate degree programs from nine Maryland public universities on one campus in Montgomery County.

BHI partners with Worksource Montgomery help postdocs who leave the NIH, University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins to gain commercial experience or insight into the industry so they can qualify for industry jobs.â€

History of Health Innovation

One of the region’s growing companies, Adaptive Phage Therapeutics, has roots that can be traced back more than 50 years to the work of CEO Greg Merrill’s father, a retired researcher with the NIH who, in 1965, began researching the use of phage viruses to treat infectious diseases.

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“When he retired, the U.S. Navy Biological Defense Research Directorate wanted to find a solution to superbugs that could be released by terrorists, so the Navy adopted my father’s ideas from NIH and started developing a platform using these viruses to treat these infections,†Merrill says.

“Then, in 2016, a patient was dying in San Diego from one of these superbugs, and the patient’s wife asked if the Navy would try this experimental therapy on her husband, who had been in a coma for four months. Within 48 hours after they injected the viruses into his IV line, he woke up and was cured. The Navy needed someone to help commercialize this technology, and they turned to my father and me.â€

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A Montgomery County native, Merrill says one of the region’s most attractive features is its quality of life.

“You get a lot for your money here, ” he says. “You’ve got access to major metropolitan areas. It’s easy to get to the mountains. It’s easy to get to the beach. You get the four seasons here, so you can enjoy the winter and then summer. The schools are among the best in the country. It’s just a really great place.â€

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