MedImmune to put plant in Frederick

County beats out rivals in quest for biotech jobs

November 17, 2005|By TRICIA BISHOP | TRICIA BISHOP,SUN REPORTER

In the growing interstate battle for biotech jobs, Maryland is planning millions of dollars in roadwork in places including Frederick County as an enticement, and yesterday it announced its latest catch, a major drug manufacturing plant, to be built by MedImmune Inc., that could help the Gaithersburg company add 840 jobs by 2008.

"We had to literally change the streetscape in Frederick" to win the MedImmune facility, said Aris Melissaratos, Maryland's secretary of business and economic development. "To have lost this one from an incumbent company would have really been horrible. I couldn't have lived with myself if that happened."

Northern Virginia and other areas had sought the facility, but Maryland won it by promising $19 million in state and local funds to help pay for capital costs and staff development. The project's first phase is expected to cost about $250 million.

On top of those public incentives is a planned road overhaul in Frederick to ease access to the facility and to others. The Maryland Department of Transportation, in a separate announcement yesterday, outlined a $105 million project that includes a new interchange on Interstate 70 and two new roads meant to relieve congestion and attract businesses to the area.

Competition for biotechnology businesses has heated up in recent years as the industry has matured. More companies have reached the stage where they have drugs ready for production and need employees, particularly in manufacturing.

Maryland's push to build a biotech economy has emerged as an issue in next year's race for governor. The leading candidates are promoting their biotech bona fides.

Two biotech parks being developed in Baltimore are expected to add 10,000 jobs, and another is planned in Montgomery County.

States are especially interested because opportunities to lure heavy industry have waned, and many public officials are licking their wounds over failed efforts to build their economies on the shoulders of new Internet and telecommunications companies a decade ago. The biotech industry, meanwhile, has grown to more than $310 billion in market capitalization from $138 billion in 1999.

Maryland has one of the nation's top concentrations of biotech businesses in Montgomery County, which ranks with Silicon Valley, Boston and North Carolina's Research Triangle. Most of Maryland's 350 biotechnology companies are along Interstate 270, which stretches from the Capital Beltway through Montgomery County to Frederick.

Frederick County has begun marketing itself as the "northern anchor of I-270" and hopes to become a manufacturing hub for the research and development cluster in Montgomery County.

"Ten to 15 years ago, there were not a lot of [biotech] manufacturing facilities. Now that work force is being built up," said C. Robert Eaton, president of MdBio Inc., a private, nonprofit corporation aimed at furthering biotechnology in Maryland.

In Rockville this summer, Human Genome Sciences Inc. unveiled a $230 million manufacturing plant, although the company has yet to bring a drug to market. The company, which is changing from one that sells genetic information to one that develops drugs, could have more than 200 employees at the site one day.

The new MedImmune facility planned in Frederick is a four-phase project that will encompass more than 700,000 square feet.

The first phase, expected to be completed in 2009, is a $250 million project with up to 331,000 square feet of office, laboratory and manufacturing space. It will have more than 225 employees.

"This will be more of a technical work force," said Jamie Lacey, a MedImmune spokeswoman. "We're working with some of the community colleges to [develop] a well-trained technical work force to serve in more of the manufacturing" facilities.

The company expects to complete construction of a laboratory and office tower at its headquarters in Montgomery County next year. That will add more than 600 jobs. MedImmune has been hiring steadily for the past year, adding 10 to 15 positions each week, Lacey said.

The manufacturing facility will increase MedImmune's production capacity for monoclonal antibody drugs, which are derived from proteins and cloned cells. MedImmune's most popular drug, Synagis, a respiratory treatment for premature infants, is made from such antibodies. So is a next-generation version called Numax, which is in late-stage clinical testing, and several other drugs under development.

MedImmune has about 2,000 employees, half of them in Maryland. It also has manufacturing plants in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Philadelphia and one adjacent to the new site in Frederick that was nearly built in Cleveland.

In the mid-1990s, Ohio offered MedImmune inexpensive land and access to a trained work force in an attempt to get the company to build there, but Maryland got word of the discussions and offered a more lucrative proposition.

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