Biotech Institute weds laboratory, marketplace

One on one

February 18, 1991

One on One is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy business leaders. Rita R. Colwell, a marine microbiologist, founded the Maryland Biotechnology Institute in 1985 and now serves as its director. MBI is the only component of the University of Maryland System charged with stimulating economic development as well as conducting basic research.

Q. Tell me about the Maryland Biotechnology Institute. What are its components?

A. There are six centers that make up the Maryland Biotechnology Institute. The institute's main office for the moment is in College Park in the Martin Biology Building . . . The Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology is in Montgomery County; the Medical Biotechnology Center is in downtown Baltimore; the Center for Marine Biotechnology is temporarily at the Bard Building [at the New Community College of Baltimore in the Inner Harbor] before we move into the Columbus Center [to be built in the Inner Harbor]; and the Center for Agricultural Biotechnology is at College Park. And then we have a Center for Biotechnology Manufacturing . . . that's at UMBC. And that's one of the newest ones. And, finally, we have a Center for Public Issues in Biotechnology, because it's very important to be examining the societal ramifications and the implications of the research at the same time that we're making these discoveries. That was one of the fundamental errors in, let's say, the nuclear discoveries. The implications to society were not really thought through until the events took place. The institute is established to provide a leading center of research and discovery in biotechnology, a core attraction for companies . . . It's very clear that the success of, let's say, San Francisco and Boston has been not because the states have set up industries themselves, but because there is located in Boston and San Francisco outstanding research centers . . . So, we are creating in Maryland an outstanding, cutting-edge research center. And here in Baltimore, we have, in fact, established the world center for marine biotechnology. We are the leaders, but we are fast being caught up with by the Japanese. They are investing $600 million in marine biotechnology, in about a six-month to a year period . . . It's just obvious that the Japanese have done an intensive market survey and have concluded that in particular marine pharmaceuticals, refined chemicals, bulk chemicals -- that there is in fact a huge market.

Q. Would you like to talk a little bit more about the Christopher Columbus Center?

A. Yes. That's extraordinarily exciting, because it is in fact a concept that includes fundamental research, but also public interface . . . one of the basic premises here is that there's a basic need for public understanding of biotechnology, marine biotechnology, not as a mysterious but as a kind of familiar

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