1990s seen as 'decade of biotechnology'

January 30, 1991|By Timothy J Mullaney

Despite problems finding capital, the prospects for emerging technology companies in the 1990s remain bright, a panel of experts told a forum at the University of Maryland at Baltimore last night.

The cost of communications will plummet and the number of new products emerging from biotechnology companies will boom, the analysts said, offering opportunities for smart entrepreneurs to expand their business.

"It [the 1990s] could be expected to be called the decade of biotechnology," Alex. Brown & Sons Inc. biotechnology analyst David Webber said.

Mr. Webber noted that most start-up biotech companies spent most of the 1980s developing products based on technologies the companies themselves had discovered or refined. Many of those companies are now ready to bring those products to market, he said.

"The technology is increasing, and the pace of new insights is accelerating," Mr. Webber said.

Henry "Pete" Linsert, chairman of Martek Corp. in Columbia, told the assembly that the biotechnology industry in Maryland faces substantial obstacles, however.

Echoing the conclusions of a Greater Baltimore Committee report on biotechnology released Monday, Mr. Linsert said Maryland's universities and federal research institutions based here have done a weak job of translating their research into commercial uses.

"We see some real strong results, but we're behind" such states as California and New Jersey in translating research dollars into products and jobs, he said. "We have it here. All we need to do is farm this area and make it happen."

The state also needs to examine its taxes and regulations to see whether they can be changed to help the biotech industry, he said, and needs to shore up its educational system to assure the industry's supply of technicians and other skilled workers.

John Rohal, Alex. Brown telecommunications industry analyst, said that industry's future is as bright as biotech's.

"The cost to send a single word is going to drop to essentially nothing" as technologies based on fiber optics replace copper cable-based systems in this decade, he said. "There are tremendous commercial implications to zero-cost communicating.

"I think we'll see a world that will change dramatically" as communications companies unlock the potential of fiber optics and even small communications companies can tap global markets, he said. "You haven't seen anything yet."

The forum also included presentations by Alex. Brown analysts who follow environmental services and information technology, and by the chief executives of four Maryland high-technology businesses.

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