Bringing biotech to Baltimore

A CONVERSATION WITH: Edward D. Miller and Elias Zerhouni

March 19, 2002

Dr. Edward D. Miller, CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine and dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Dr. Elias Zerhouni, chairman of Hopkins' Department of Radiology and Radiological Science, recently spoke with Richard C. Gross, editor of the Opinion Commentary page, at The Sun's editorial offices. The discussion focused on plans for a biotech center at Hopkins.

Q: Baltimore has plans for a biotech center that would be on 22 of 80 acres near Hopkins. The project would cost about $600 million in private and public money. Where are you with this project and what does it mean for Baltimore?

Dr. Miller: We are very supportive of the project. We have worked with the state, the city and the community to see how we can leverage our intellectual property to help make this project move forward.

Q: How far away are you from getting this into concrete?

Dr. Miller: I think that we're very close to getting an agreement from all the different groups that are concerned. If that can happen, then the project can start to move forward. And moving forward means [working out the] details [about] how residents who would have to be displaced would be fairly treated, where they would go in the interim period. What would happen after this area was redeveloped? Would they be able to come back? Would they want to come back? What are their choices? How can they be protected financially?

Q: How many people are there?

Dr. Miller: There is an estimate of 200 to 300 families.

The second part would then be to be able to condemn and take down those properties and start preparing the site, putting the infrastructure in place for housing development. At the same time, we would help the city recruit tenants for the biotech area. The business community would be involved in how those houses are constructed and the selling of those houses - whether some would be fair market value, some subsidized.

Q: And once a project like this is completed, what does this mean for Baltimore? Does it become, as you put it, a life sciences center on the East Coast?

Dr. Miller: I think it can. The fact that you've got Hopkins, the University of Maryland, a significant number of colleges around here in a very concentrated area allows this - all this intellectual property - to be harnessed. It's a magnet for companies that want to be able to work with bright young scientists that have new technologies, new ideas and, at Hopkins, a significant patient volume, where clinical trials could go on. We've got all the right mixes. We just need to make it happen.

Q: Have you received interest from corporations around the country?

Dr. Zerhouni: Yes, we have definite interest.

Q: And they've said?

Dr. Zerhouni: Get your act together and we'll come back.

Q: What will it take to get your act together?

Dr. Zerhouni: You need agreement of the City Council and some agreement in Annapolis, and a formation of the nonprofit entity that will be responsible for ensuring that the project survives multiple administrations. If that happens, I'm very confident that there will be strong interest from various corporations to come to Baltimore City.

Q: When you mention the council and Annapolis, you mean they have to come up with the money for this?

Dr. Zerhouni: The City Council has to approve any urban redevelopment plan. It has responsibilities toward the community.

Q: But if Baltimore came to Hopkins with this idea, why wouldn't the council act on it right away and try to move this project forward as soon as possible?

Dr. Zerhouni: They should.

Q: Are you optimistic that they are going to move on this?

Dr. Zerhouni: I remain optimistic, and the mayor is working with his team actively with all of the constituencies trying to nail down final agreements, and, hopefully, that will lead to a presentation to the City Council and, hopefully, approval.

Q: Do you feel you have the mayor's support on this?

Dr. Zerhouni: The mayor has been leading the charge.

We are very encouraged by his willingness to lead the charge and present a different vision for Baltimore City.

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