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Montgomery County leading in advances in bio health innovation around Md.

If there is an industry for which Maryland is best known these days, it might just be bio health.

According to local experts in the field and Maryland business leaders, that reputation is not going to change any time soon.

Those experts agree that bio health – a rather amorphous term, which can be described as an industry that focuses on human health by identifying and diagnosing health risks and on producing medicines and vaccines that prevent and treat those health risks – is big business in the state. And nowhere is that truer than in Montgomery County.

While jurisdictions such as Frederick County and Baltimore have a share of the industry, the acknowledged state leader in the field is Montgomery. Observers cite a number of reasons for this, among them are the presence of the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture located in the county.

“Bio health is one of the most important sectors within Maryland’s high-tech economy, said Mary Kane, president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. “The life sciences industry is booming across Maryland, especially Montgomery County.

“Maryland’s government leaders must continue to support this incredible economic development engine by maintaining and even accelerating the speed to market of products and therapies that are advancing modern medicine and saving lives.”

Montgomery County leaders are working on many fronts to continue to dominant the industry. The county is the only jurisdiction in the state that gives its own tax break to investors in the field, to supplement a state tax break.

Last year, the Montgomery County Council unanimously enacted a new zoning measure to streamline and accelerate the regulatory process to develop bio health facilities in the county, which supporters say will help attract and retain other bio health companies.

The county also is adding to its inventory of life sciences construction and expects to boost the space from the current 11 million square feet to more than 15 million by 2025.

In addition, the county announced in November that it is collaborating with the University of Maryland Baltimore and the University of Maryland College Park to establish an Institute for Health Computing, which will use recent advances in the field. The institute will be located in North Bethesda.

Montgomery County “is poised to become an East Coast Silicon Valley,” said Mark T. Gladwin, dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The institute, he said will bring together world-class researchers from two universities already prominent in the fields “to explore how (artificial intelligence), machine learning and virtual and augmented reality can facilitate knowledge discovery for human health and well-being.”

County Executive Mark Elrich described bio health as “a priority as we look to grow our county’s economy.

“Our highly educated and diverse workforce and federal assets in this space are unmatched,” he added. “While office space is becoming increasingly vacant, our innovative biotech’s continue to fill our lab space almost as quickly as it’s built.

“These are good jobs that will result in health benefits for Montgomery County residents and patients around the world, while also contributing to our county’s economy and quality of life.”

One of Montgomery County’s successful bio health companies is REGENEXBIO, a biotechnology company that specializes in gene therapy. Started in 2009, the company moved its headquarters to Rockville in 2015, and has since grown from 30 employees to almost 400, according to co-founder, president and CEO Ken Mills.

In the past year, the company opened a new 132,000-square-foot headquarters in Rockville that includes a state-of-the-art “Manufacturing Innovation Center.”

The facility, Mills said in an email response to questions, “enables us to have true end-to-end capabilities, from preclinical research to clinical trials and, finally, to patients.”

Mills praised the county’s “Impressive concentration of cell and gene therapy expertise,” and added: “The proximity to the NIH, FDA, NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) and other academic and medical research faculties provides a rich environment of talent, science and regulatory resources. It clearly attracts other biosciences companies also. This made Montgomery County and ideal place to base and grow REGENXBIO’s operations.”

The field will only continue to grow, Mills added – to the benefit of society.

“The bio health industry is essential to advancing science and developing solutions that can change the course of a disease,” Mills said.

The co-founder of another bio health company based in Montgomery County also sings the county’s praises.

Pavel Khrimian started Deka Biosciences in January of 2019 with partner John Mumm. The company is developing a treatment for cancer and inflammatory diseases that can identify patients that will respond to the therapy.

Since its inception, Deka has grown to include 24 employees and funding has soared to some $20 million.

In February of next year, his company plans to begin testing its treatment on humans. The rapid progress, Khrimian said, was helped tremendously by its location in Montgomery County.

“The reason we like Maryland, and Montgomery County particularly, is it’s very supportive of startups like us,” he said. “There’s a lot of folks willing to provide help.”

The county provided lab space at a low cost and with flexible terms, he said, and perhaps more importantly, offered a built-in workforce.

“We’ve hired 22 folks, and only one was from out of state. Most are from Montgomery County,” he said. “They’re good folks, great education, experience. They have that DNA that makes biotech tick.”

This article is featured in The Daily Record's Doing Business in Maryland 2022.

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