Who will become biotech flagship?

MedImmune has long served as life sciences success model


April 25, 2007|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,sun reporter

When MedImmune Inc. agreed to be purchased by AstraZeneca PLC over the weekend, the state was served notice that it will essentially lose its flagship biotech - the one officials have relied on for years as a selling tool to draw similar businesses.

The Gaithersburg company's profits and high-profile products (FluMist and blockbuster treatment Synagis for babies) have led governors to herald it as an industry leader, mayors to praise the jobs it provides and economic development leaders to tout MedImmune as the example all biotechs should follow.

Even though MedImmune and its 1,700 employees will remain in Maryland, the company will become a division of AstraZeneca if the $15.6 billion deal gets shareholder approval as expected later this year.

While Maryland lays claim to the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, none among its 300-plus biotechs offer the kind of success story that MedImmune achieved. That makes it tough to brag among the growing army of biotech competition out there. States like California, home to biotech grandfather Genentech Inc., and Massachusetts, where big-name Genzyme Corp. lives, have long led the way when it comes to biotech leaders.

Indeed, many states now claim biotechnology as a key industry. Dozens of states have assembled teams to attract biotech companies along with the high-paying professional jobs and the lower-paying laboratory and manufacturing work they bring.

In Maryland, two city biotechnology-focused business parks are under development, state funds have been committed to stem cell research and Gov. Martin O'Malley just created a Life Sciences Advisory Board to come up with a "strategic plan" to grow the industry.

"Our state officials have generally, as far as I can recall, always been remarkably supportive of this industry," said Wayne T. Hockmeyer, MedImmune's founder and chairman. "It's something that was always a unifying theme - it didn't matter what party they belonged to - they've always been remarkably supportive."

Larry Mahan, the bioscience director at the state's Department of Business and Economic Development, said Maryland has a lot going for it with its breadth of companies, but he acknowledged that having a clear flagship makes a difference.

"A flagship definitely helps," he said, ticking off a list of criteria: revenue generation, number of employees, depth of drug development pipelines.

O'Malley's spokesman Rick Abbruzzese was reluctant to pick the next flagship, saying only that there were a "a number of biotech companies in Maryland" that could fit the bill based on their profiles, profits and potentials.

A look at the likely front runners based on interviews with people in - or focused on - the industry is summarized in the accompanying box.


Biotech Contenders

The state has a breadth in its biotechnology companies and several possibilities to become the leader. See the pros and cons of the following companies on page 6D *2006 fiscal year ended June 30

Digene Corp.


Develops, manufactures and markets genetic tests focused on infectious diseases, particularly human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer.







Chief executive

Daryl J. Faulkner

2006 revenue*

$153 million

2006 profit

$8.4 million


490 as of June 30


Digene Corp.

Marketed products

HPV Test (screens for 13 types of high--risk HPV associated with cervical cancer), Rapid Capture System (allows for fast lab screening of test results), and various other detectors of infectious diseases.

Developing products

New versions of its lab technology platforms and customizing its HPV test for use in developing countries.

Flagship pros

HPV has been a major newsmaker lately as companies develop new treatments to ward it off and Digene has the only test on the market to look for particularly dangerous strains in women. The company has launched an ambitious marketing campaign, earned an annual profit and opened its doors to state officials when they want a biotech background.

Flagship cons

The company's pipeline of follow-up acts is somewhat thin, with the focus on selling more of the current products. And some analysts say an HPV test could become obsolete once HPV vaccines are in full use, making Digene's future unclear. * 2006 fiscal year ended June 30

Human Genome Sciences Inc.


Biotech developing drugs from gene data







Chief executive

H. Thomas Watkins

2006 revenue

$25.8 million

2006 loss

$251.2 million



Marketed products


Key developing products

Albuferon (hepatitis C), LymphoStat-B (lupus), ABthrax (anthrax)

Flagship pros

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