Biotech to get a nice no-tech $50 million

UM institute's campus in Rockville to expand


The University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute plans to announce Tuesday that it will receive $50 million from the state to expand its Rockville research campus.

The money, which was included in the state's capital budget, is to fund a 140,000-square-foot building at the Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology.

The Rockville center is one of five operated by the institute, which conducts research and training as part of the University of Maryland system.

The institute is independently run and seeks to expand the state's scientific and economic development in the areas of human health, the marine environment, agriculture and protein engineering/structural biology.

In addition to the one in Rockville, three centers are in Baltimore and one is in College Park.

Jennie Hunter-Cevera, the institute's president, said it has spent 12 years seeking funding for the new building, which will house approximately 250 workers by the time it is completed, which is scheduled for September 2005.

"This will be a complete duplication of what you would find in the industry," she said. "It will be a training facility as well as labs, especially for those working in the biotech industry. Many companies are maturing and getting into development, but they don't have the work force trained to do it."

On top of funding construction, the state contributes $15 million, about one-third of the institute's operating budget. That's down from about half of the budget 3 1/2 years ago, Hunter-Cevera said. The remainder of the institute's funding comes from the federal government and private industry.

The institute has at times been a lightning rod of controversy for using public money but producing few patents and failing to build relationships with the area's biotech companies.

Hunter-Cevera said much of the criticism has abated as the centers' productivity has increased. The institute has spun off nine companies in the past few years and increased the licensing of its products, she said.

The institute has also brought prestige and big-name scientists to the state by studying such things as the relationship between insects and diseases including malaria and West Nile virus, she said.

Economic developers in Maryland are eager to capitalize on the growing biotechnology sector and its potential for job production.

There are few training centers across the country like the one planned by the institute, and that should lure small companies that need expertise and large companies that want to do something new, said Larry Mahan, director of the biosciences and advanced technologies group for the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

The companies will learn how to start sophisticated studies that eventually lead to medicines and other products, he said.

"It will provide invaluable training experience for whoever is associated with the facility, whether it be a university student or researcher or a company researcher," Mahan said.

Maryland ranks third in the nation in the number of biotech companies, according to the department, with about 300 bioscience companies and more than 42,000 employees, including those at universities and federal laboratories.

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