Ground Floor in Biotechnology

January 07, 1991

Even in a time of recession and budget deficits, some projects just cannot be shelved for very long: road and bridge repairs, rescuing cultural resources such as the Peabody Conservatory and projects that eventually could pave the way to major new economic growth, such as the proposed $17-million Maryland Bioprocessing Facility, a priority item for the Department of Economic and Employment Development.

Here's why: Maryland, a national leader in biotechnology research, looks to its major assets, the National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, to provide critical mass for entrepreneurial spinoffs. Maryland is third in the nation in the number of biotechnology firms, after California and Massachusetts.

Capitalizing on laboratories' discoveries can be as difficult as finding them, however. That's because the costs to produce enough of a new biotech product to satisfy Food and Drug Administration field-test requirements are greater than most research firms can pay.

Venture capital to support such expansion is drying up. Venture-capital investments in high-technology firms fell 14 percent in the third quarter of this year, after dropping only 3.3 percent during the first six months. And the economy is worsening.

What Maryland can do to help these potential new sources of manufacturing is to build a bioprocessing facility to provide space, manufacturing equipment and expert personnel for high-technology firms. That would keep them here, instead of moving to other states where larger firms have processing capacity available. It could also bring in firms from out of state, even from other countries. All tenants would pay fees to support operations.

Biotech research, now a $2-billion industry with more than 150 medical products in development, is expected to grow in commercialization to a $50-billion industry. The proposed facility could help Maryland move from the $10 million in tax revenues and 4,000 jobs it realized from biotech operations this year to $150 million in taxes and 60,000 jobs in 10 years. That's worth pursuing. The $2 million that state economic development officials seek for start-up studies could pay off handsomely.

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