Md., Scotland in alliance to aid biotechnology firms

Lewin hails sharing of people and ideas

Economic development

March 28, 2000|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

Economic development officials in Maryland and Scotland said yesterday that they have formed an alliance to encourage biotechnology companies in the two regions to strike business relationships, collaborate on research and consider setting up satellite operations on each other's turf before looking elsewhere.

Richard C. Mike Lewin, Maryland's secretary of business and economic development, said the alliance should create jobs in Maryland and foster close working relationships between companies here and in Scotland.

Lewin said at least three Scottish companies are pursuing business deals in Maryland, though he declined to name the companies or provide other specifics.

"That's just the tip of the iceberg," Lewin said. "I think we'll see the whole range of collaboration in the future, from an exchange of scientists to open discussions about specific projects in the labs."

The agreement does not mean that companies interested in setting up satellite sites in Maryland will receive any special treatment in terms of expedited zoning clearance or other nuts-and-bolts help that companies do not already receive, Lewin said. Rather, he said, the alliance puts in place a framework for "sharing people and ideas."

Also, it could open doors as Maryland economic development officials seek to market Maryland as a prime locale for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies because of its growing concentration of companies in the sector, and proximity to the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Maryland and Scottish officials said the collaboration also is aimed at improving access to new markets, and encouraging technology transfer and investment opportunities between the regions.

The alliance is the result of a number of trade missions between Scotland and Maryland last year.

Government officials are expected to join industry leaders in signing a formal alliance resolution in Scotland this summer.

Lewin and Peter Lennox, network director of biotechnology at Scottish Enterprise, Scotland's economic development agency, announced the relationship yesterday at BIO 2000, a biotechnology industry conference in Boston.

"We have discovered many areas of common interest, which will have long-term benefits for both communities. The alliance is a perfect opportunity to foster even stronger links with another dynamic biotech cluster," Lennox said.

Lewin said the regions, given their similarities, should prove a natural fit. Both areas have large concentrations of scientists, government laboratories and companies engaged in gene therapy, genetics and genomic research, as well as an emerging bio-pharmaceutical business.

For example, Maryland is home to PE Corp.-Celera Genomics Group, the publicly held company gunning to be the first to complete a map of all human genes, and MedImmune Inc., a developer of vaccines, infectious disease treatments and drugs to fight various cancers.

Scotland, meanwhile, is home to Axis-Shield PLC, a maker of diagnostic tests for infectious diseases, and PPL Therapeutics PLC, the Edinburgh company that made history by cloning Dolly, the sheep, and announced March 15 that it had cloned five piglets using the same process.

"Both regions have a long history of being at the forefront of bioscience," Lewin said.

Scotland has about 250 biotechnology companies, many of them located in the "Tartan Triangle" between Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh, while Maryland has about 300 companies, more than 200 of them with headquarters in the Interstate 270 "high-technology corridor" between Bethesda and Frederick.

Two Maryland companies have their European headquarters in Scotland: Rockville-based Life Technologies Inc., a research equipment supplier to the biotechnology industry, and BioReliance Corp., which contracts to manufacture antiviral drugs.

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