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New biohealth index shows Md.’s strengths, challenges

While Central Maryland isn’t a major hub for the biohealth industry like Boston or San Francisco, it has key assets that can be enhanced to compete with some of the giants.

That’s one of the takeaways from a new report published by the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore and BioHealth Innovation Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to growing the state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and supporting biohealth startups.

The report establishes the Central Maryland BioHealth Innovation Index, a numerical score that shows how the region stacks up against its peers.

The authors used data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Association of University Technology Managers and other sources to compare Maryland to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco and the Raleigh-Durham are of North Carolina.

Each market was ranked according to criteria such as the number of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher, the number of patents awarded at universities, and the number of initial public offerings. Those rankings were averaged to provide scores in four categories — talent, capital, entrepreneurship and research — as well as an overall score.

Maryland earned high marks for talent, tying with New York for the top score, largely due to the “constant stream of BioHealth workers” that cycle through institutions such as the National Institutes of Health, the University of Maryland, Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University, according to the report.

“That’s a great launch point for us,” said Tom Sadowski, president and CEO of the economic alliance.

General Electric’s recent decision to move its headquarters to the Boston area was motivated by the desire to tap into a similar talent pool in that region, Sadowski said.

“If you don’t have the students that are well-educated and a workforce that’s well-educated, you can’t build any major industry,” said Rich Bendis, president and CEO of BioHealth Innovation. “We have the knowledge base with our workers, students and scientists that we can build on.”

But Maryland ranked sixth out of eight overall, beating only Pittsburgh and Philadelphia; New York ranked first and San Francisco second.

With more access to risk capital, new technology and a general culture of entrepreneurship, Central Maryland can become one of the country’s top three biotech hubs by 2023, according to the report.

Commercialization is a key area where the Free State falls behind, because few of the region’s research projects enter the commercial marketplace, according to the report.

“We have a great deal of research and development that comes into the state every year,” Bendis said. While more effort has been made to translate that into startup companies, licenses and royalties, there’s still room for improvement, he said.

Key institutions, such as the University System of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University, are taking steps to address that need by beefing up their research commercialization – often called tech transfer – operations, Sadowski said.

While organizations like the Maryland Technology Development Corp., or TEDCO, exist to provide seed funding to emerging companies, Maryland still needs to enhance access to early-stage venture capital, according to the report.

“That’s one thing we want to work on in the future,” Bendis said. “How do we create more Maryland-based funds?”