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O’Malley touts life sciences at opening of BIO Convention

WASHINGTON — Gov. Martin O’Malley used Tuesday’s opening of the BIO International Convention to release a report that shows that the life sciences accounted for one-third of all job gains in Maryland between 2002 and 2010.

The report, authored by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, also said the life science industry makes up 6.5 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, adding up to a $37.1 billion total economic impact last year.

“Maryland’s life sciences industry continues to be one of our strongest economic drivers, creating high-paying jobs even in tough times and helping to feed, fuel and heal our planet with life-saving discoveries,” O’Malley said in a statement.

O’Malley also praised the collaboration in the biotech field that he said will lead to improved health care in the coming years.

“I’m most excited about the coming together of disciplines as seen with projects such as the mapping of the human genome and the development of personalized medicine,” O’Malley said. “We’re putting together the best of medicine and the best of diagnostics. I think that holds a lot of promise for health care in terms of improving care while bringing down costs.”

The delegation representing Maryland at the convention, which runs through Thursday and has attracted more than 15,000 biotechnology professionals from around the world, includes an array of research organizations, biotech companies and educational institutions seeking to send a message about the state’s biotech developments. Maryland-based researchers are pursuing projects ranging from using genetics to predict diseases before they develop to creating personalized medicine to help treat those diseases once they emerge.

As other areas of the economy have continued to struggle, the study says, biotechnology and related industries have shown strong growth and delivered high salaries, with employees making an average of more than $91,000 a year, which is 76 percent more than the average Maryland wage earner.

“Biotech is one of the industries in the state that’s been recession-proof in terms of hiring because it’s still developing,” said Collins Jones, biotechnology coordinator at Montgomery College. “As these companies continue to grow and gain support, they need to hire more people.”

Jones, who also works as an instructor at Biotech Primer Inc., a Towson-based science education company, said the industry’s entry-level jobs are mostly in manufacturing and often do not require Ph.D.’s, despite what many people think.

He highlighted four key areas of development that are taking off in Maryland: vaccines; product testing; molecular diagnostics, or the process of using genetics to predict disease; and bioinformatics, the use of computers to analyze molecular data.

Paul Easterling, who works at the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park, said Maryland’s prestigious research institutions and an influx of students pursuing biotech help make the area attractive to new companies. He said biotechnology is the fastest-growing undergraduate engineering major at the University of Maryland.

“There’s such a strong demand for bioengineers in the area and it’s a very broad and interdisciplinary field. There’s lots of job growth that we keep seeing year after year,” Easterling said. “As more new companies come to Maryland, they are going to need to hire out bioengineers from Maryland to staff their new facilities.”

Exhibitor Elizabeth Weiblen Hines of the Baltimore Development Corp. said the convention provided opportunities to network and spread the word about Baltimore, which could potentially attract new business to the area.

“We’re just trying to really market the region,” Hines said. “We’re close to Washington, D.C., we’re number one in [National Institutes of Health] grants, we have a skilled workforce and the people to do the jobs in Baltimore and Baltimore County. It’s really a regional approach, and the networking opportunities for us here have just been tremendous.”