Biotechnology experts request state funding

March 05, 1991|By David Conn | David Conn,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland's biotechnology community made at least three big mistakes in the last century or so: Dramamine, Bufferin and Sweet 'n Lo.

Actually, those weren't the mistakes. They were wildly successful products developed from inventions or discoveries made at the University of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins University, according to Thomas Chmura, deputy director of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

The mistakes came when state, academic and private sector leaders let the technology go to manufacturers outside Maryland, forfeiting thousands of jobs and countless billions of dollars in revenues, Mr. Chmura said.

"Not one of those jobs, not one of those tax dollars, not one of those companies that is producing these products is in Maryland," Mr. Chmura told the House Appropriations Committee yesterday at a briefing on biotechnology and technology transfer issues.

The committee will be considering millions of dollars in capital budget requests for biotechnology projects in the next few weeks, and Mr. Chmura and others took the opportunity to plead for state money.

Mr. Chmura, to the general agreement of budget analysts and legislators attending the hearing yesterday, acknowledged that Maryland does not have the entrepreneurial climate or statewide policy to get technology transferred out of the lab and into the marketplace.

Places like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University have been far more successful in those efforts.

Mr. Chmura and an all-star cast from Maryland's academic community said the stakes for Maryland's economy are extremely high and urged state funding of technology transfer efforts.

Today the biotechnology industry generates about $2 billion in revenues, Mr. Chmura said. "By the year 2000, that may be up to $50 billion or more."

One answer that the GBC and others are pushing is a proposed Maryland Bioprocessing Facility, a sort of "superincubator" to help small firms move through the rigorous clinical tests that the Food and Drug Administration demands and scale up to full manufacturing.

The facility would cost about $17 million and Gov. William Donald Schaefer has requested $2 million for planning in his fiscal 1992 budget.

With several other large biotechnology projects to consider -- including the six-facility Maryland Biotechnology Institutes -- the lawmakers said they'll be looking for better return on the state's investments and more accountability for how the money is spent.

"We were astonished when we visited the UMBC [University of Maryland Baltimore County] and we saw the multimillion dollars of first-rate equipment," said Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore and vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee. "And then we found out there's only a half-time person who's a specialist in helping move technology to the marketplace."

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