Biohealth is a hot industry in various markets across the country. Access to federal government agencies, state programs and top research institutions have led Maryland to be the No. 6 biotech market in the country, bringing in $15 billion in research dollars to the state every year. But Richard Bendis, president and CEO of Maryland BioHealth Innovation, wants to see the state be in the top three, to join the upper echelons of biohealth powerhouses, such as Boston and San Diego.
“We have some assets and institutions and organizations that no one else can replicate in the U.S.,” Bendis said.
As a member of Gov. Larry Hogan’s Life Science Advisory Board, Bendis along with 15 other members representing the federal government, academia, business and investment communities, are preparing recommendations on what the state needs to do to be a top biohealth region in the country by 2023. The board is scheduled to give a presentation in December.
For starters, Bendis said, “We need more connectivity within the state between various groups.”
Maryland already has numerous assets that provide a distinct advantage for biohealth businesses.
“One of the things that is unique is that Maryland and this region (have) a lot of capabilities from a science and technology standpoint that enable us to become a leaders,” Bendis said.
He pointed to the National Institutes of Health, located in Bethesda, which oversees some 27 research institutions with a $3 billion spending budget that is generally expended in Maryland. The Food and Drug Administration, often viewed as only a regulatory agency, also does a lot of internal research and has a tech transfer office, a resource Bendis wants the state to use more.
“They have stated publicly that they want to be more collaborative with people around them here in Maryland,” Bendis said. “We as the state have not been as proactive in working with them.”
The state also houses the Center for Medicare Services, which determines pricing for Medicare products and services in the U.S. Between those three entities, Maryland is home to the agencies and institutions that do the pricing, regulations and the primary research.
“Those three entities only exist in Maryland,” Bendis said.
But to become a top-tier biohealth market, an industry sometimes known more narrowly as biotechnology, the state needs to focus on increasing access to capital, particularly attracting venture capital dollars and better access to early stage capital, he said.
“We don’t have as much capital within Maryland as with other regions,” he said.
A recent study looking at the biohealth industry also found that there’s a gap between taking research work and turning into something with commercial value, especially with patents.
“We generally hold our own in the creation of patents and technology (but) it’s what happens with the patent once it’s created,” Bendis said. “We need to enhance the quality of people around commercializing market relevant status.”
Between Johns Hopkins University and the University System of Maryland, the state’s education sector brings in about $3.6 billion in research dollars. But the shift is now toward research that can lead to commercial activities, a new focus seen within USM.
“They’ve been shifting to get more actively involved in startups and incentivizing the faculty, so they will be rewarded for getting involved in commercialization activities,” Bendis said, adding that getting involved in commercialization efforts may also help with tenure.
Johns Hopkins’s research stretches from the university, the medical center and its Applied Physics Laboratory and is also focusing on turning research into business ventures.
“It’s really done from and academic research standpoint,” said Bendis. “Now they want to be known as a commercialization and entrepreneurial institution which is a very positive change.”