Life sciences firms getting MIPS grantsWhere's the state...

LIFE SCIENCES

October 27, 1992|By Liz Bowie

Life sciences firms getting MIPS grants

Where's the state of Maryland putting its money to develop industry? On a better way to raise a fish called tilapia, on a new vaccine for strep and on a plastic that degrades better in sunlight.

Those are three of the projects funded by the Maryland Industrial Partnerships, which give $1.8 million a year to small businesses to help them develop new processes and products. The goal: seeding ideas that might not be funded by the private sector, but that allow Maryland companies to grow and provide jobs.

More than a dozen of the 126 companies MIPS has funded are life sciences firms trying to perfect products. And MIPS already is seeing some of the fruits of that research.

Aquamar Industries of Pocomoke City, for instance, received a grant to work with a University of Maryland professor to develop a "closed loop" aquaculture system, which uses very little water to raise fish.

A prototype of the tank was built on the Eastern Shore campus, and then a small-scale demonstration project proved the technology could work commercially, said Gerry Redden, general manager of Aquamar. The major hurdle: to find a way to grow fish as cheaply as competitors in Louisiana. Today, the small company is raising money for a 10-fold expansion that includes a full-scale plant.

If it works, "we will have laid the foundation for a new industry here," Mr. Redden said.

Other MIPS grants, which must be matched by the company, have gone to Univax Biologics Inc. of Rockville; Martek Corp. of Columbia; Inovar Biologicals of Gaithersburg; Scios Nova Inc., which has a laboratory in Baltimore; Burns Laboratories Inc. of Owings Mills; Biospherics of Beltsville; and Biotrax Inc. and Eco Atlantic Inc. of Baltimore.

Univax Biologics is working on a vaccine for streptococcal infections and Eco Atlantic is developing a photodegradable polymer.

Crop Genetics makes a natural pesticide

Officials at Crop Genetics think they can kill more pests with a sweet-smelling natural perfume than with toxic chemicals.

The Hanover-based company has just gotten the exclusive license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make products from a group of pheromones -- natural chemicals that attract pests to a wide variety of plants, including soybeans and tomatoes.

Why would you want to use a perfume that attracts pests to a soybean plant? To fool the pest into eating a deadly fungus.

"Rather than going to the plant, it goes to the source of its own death," said Peter Carlson, Crop Genetics' chief scientist.

If the process works as well as the company thinks, the market could be lucrative.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency already has banned some of the toxic chemicals that kill pests because they pollute ground water and could harm wildlife.

Crop Genetics' new pheromones could offer a natural, environmentally safe pesticide.

The company has completed two years of field tests of the pheromones and hopes to have a product on the market within a couple years.

It has targeted the soybean cyst nematode for its first product. The pest, ubiquitous in the 50 million acres of soybeans planted in the United States, destroys an estimated $250 million of the crop each year.

Life Technologies buys Telios assets

Life Technologies Inc., a Gaithersburg biotechnology company, has purchased some of a San Diego company's assets that were used to manufacture and sell research products.

The $1.3 million acquisition from Telios Pharmaceuticals Inc. includes a line of products that can be used for research, customer lists and the inventory of some manufacturing assets.

Life Technologies cannot sell the products for diagnosis or therapy. But it can sell them for research, a market which generated $817,000 during the nine-month period that ended Sept. 30.

4 Md. scientists get investigative awards

Four Maryland scientists, including three from the University of Maryland at College Park, have won National Science Foundation Young Investigator Awards this year.

The awards, given to 202 scientists in the nation, help pay for research. Each award winner receives up to $100,000 a year for five years.

The Maryland recipients are: Michael J. Betenbaugh, a Johns Hopkins University assistant professor of chemical engineering; Cheng S. Lee, 33, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemical Engineering at the University of Maryland Baltimore County; Steven Anlage, an assistant physics professor at College Park; and Peggy Johnson, an assistant professor of civil engineering at College Park.

Dr. Betenbaugh wants to develop a synthetic version of a virus that would not be infectious. The idea is to make a virus without the genetic material that makes people sick. The virus could be used as a vaccine, because, injected into a person, the body would create antibodies against the disease. Dr. Betenbaugh is working on a vaccine for a form of diarrhea that can be lethal to small children.

Dr. Lee works in bio-separations and bio-analytical instrumentation.

Dr. Johnson has concentrated her research on river engineering, including analyzing the erosion of bridge foundations.

Dr. Anlage is doing basic research on super-conducting materials.

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