Senate panel briefed on biotech in Md Some lawmakers question state's $100 million outlay

November 17, 1993|By David Conn | David Conn,Ernst & YoungStaff Writer

What the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee wanted from Maryland's economic development leaders yesterday was a forward-looking plan for growing the state's nascent biotechnology industry.

What they got was a summary of past efforts and a bit of cheerleading, according to Sen. John A. Cade, an Anne Arundel County Republican.

"The purpose of a strategic plan is to find out where . . . we're going to be in five years, where Maryland wants to be and what resources are necessary to get us there. I don't see that," Mr. Cade said.

The question of a strategic plan is important to the legislature because biotechnology is one of three major areas of the economy that the state has targeted to focus its development resources. Since 1985, Maryland has spent more than $100 million on major biotechnology projects, including the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI), the Maryland Bioprocessing Center, the Medical Biotechnology Center and the Christopher Columbus Center for Marine Research and Exploration.

While short on forecasting and strategic planning, yesterday's upbeat report from state officials outlined the biotech industry here: still lacking significant profits, but finally beginning to take root and grow.

"During the 1990s, the United States biotechnology industry is expected to grow 10- to 20-fold. This should mean 40,000 to 80,000 new jobs and substantial tax revenues for Maryland," said Rita Colwell, president of UMBI, which initially was funded by the state, but whose budget now is supported mostly by federal dollars.

Already the Baltimore-Washington region ranks fourth in the nation in the number of biotechnology companies, according to a study by Ernst & Young, and fifth in the total revenues of those firms.

Future growth will come from the fruits of government and private efforts, Ms. Colwell said, such as:

* A gene-cloning system, developed at the UMBI and licensed to Life Technologies Inc. of Gaithersburg;

* A cholera diagnostic test kit developed by the state's Center of Marine Biotechnology and now being sold worldwide by New Horizons Diagnostics of Columbia;

* The opening on Friday of the Aquaculture Research Center in Fells Point, which has attracted a Boston company called AquaPharm Technologies to Baltimore.

Despite those victories, some lawmakers questioned whether the state should be investing in biotechnology.

"I just wonder about the veracity of the state throwing money at this," said Sen. Julian Lapides, a Baltimore Democrat. "If private industry can do it, why don't they?"

The answer, according to Mark L. Wasserman, secretary of the Department of Economic and Employment Development, is that the private sector can't go it alone. "Yeah, you could take a risk and not do anything. But be aware that everyone from Japan to Massachusetts is investing [in biotechnology]."

SIZING UP THE BIOTECH INDUSTRY

UI .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..No. of cos. ... .. .. .. .. .. Revenues

Region .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..as % of U.S. total.. .. .. .. (in millions)

San Francisco Bay area.. .. ..15 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. $1,545

New York tri-state area .. .. 11 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . .313

Boston area .. .. .. .. .. .. 10 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . .471

Baltimore-Washington area .. ..9 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 275

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