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Economic Alliance joins with BioHealth Innovation

The Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore has signed on to a partnership that officials hope will accelerate commercialization of the region’s biotechnology industry.

The alliance, a nonprofit economic development organization serving Baltimore and its six surrounding counties, will be the area’s primary business partner with BioHealth Innovation Inc. The economic alliance’s responsibilities include securing and administering grant money for central Maryland biotech projects and overseeing regional marketing efforts for the organization.

“It’s really these types of critical partnerships and collaborative efforts that are going to drive new innovations,” said J. Thomas Sadowski, president and CEO of the alliance.

BioHealth Innovation is a public-private partnership that works to commercialize research and increase early-stage funding. The group initially started as a Montgomery County initiative and then branched into Baltimore at the recommendation of Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels, said Richard Bendis, president and CEO of BioHealth Innovation.

Daniels, a BioHealth board member, pointed out that while Hopkins has facilities in Montgomery County, the majority of its resources are in Baltimore, said Bendis.

However, the program is not exclusive, he said.

“We know there are resources and assets in other parts of the state. … Just because they’re not located in central Maryland doesn’t mean we’re not willing to work with them,” said Bendis, who spent the last two years developing BioHealth and served as interim CEO for the past six months before being named to the position last week.

Conversations with the alliance started about 10 months ago, said Sadowski, whose group will also oversee efforts to establish entrepreneurs-in-residence at Hopkins and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. The resident entrepreneur will mentor scientists to ensure the commercial viability of their research, as well as evaluate existing technologies and provide advice on new projects.

In March, BioHealth named Todd Chappell its first entrepreneur in residence. Chappell is working in the National Institutes of Health Office of Technology Transfer.

The group’s five-year goals include increasing the amount of venture capital that flows annually into Maryland life science companies to $150 million from $79 million; increasing the number of marketable innovations to 150 from 30; and creating and retaining 1,300 jobs.

BioHealth Innovation is one of several recent efforts in Maryland to improve the state’s gap between research and commercialization.

Maryland tops the list for receiving the most NIH research and development dollars and is second in the Milken Institute’s rankings of state science and technology capabilities. But when it comes to starting businesses, Milken ranks Maryland at 42nd.

“If we can make just a 5- or 10-point jump, what an exponential impact it’s going to have on our regional economy,” Sadowski said.

Others commercialization efforts include Invest Maryland, the state’s $84 million venture capital investment fund that will target early-stage companies, and Innovate Maryland, which aims to commercialize 40 technologies every year through a partnership with five universities.