Donald Fry: Gaining traction for life sciences industry growth in Maryland

By Donald C. Fry

Maryland’s claim as a leading center for the life sciences industry was ratified recently by Rosemarie Truman, CEO of the Virginia-based Center for Advancing Innovation.

The more than 500 life sciences companies in research-rich Maryland rank our state second in the U.S. for number of life sciences firms, Truman told members of the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Bioscience Committee at its May 23 meeting.

That’s the good news. The less-than-good news is that life sciences companies in more than two dozen other states generate more revenue, as a percentage of state Gross Domestic Product, than life sciences companies in Maryland, according to Truman.

What does this mean? It means, of course, that life sciences companies in our state appear to be underachieving. But to me another way of looking at it is that the opportunity in Maryland for commercial growth in the life sciences industry is substantial if we can get our policies better aligned to promote stronger industry growth.

Truman outlined for GBC members a recent benchmarking study and survey of Maryland life sciences companies conducted by the Center for Advancing Innovation, a nonprofit organization she founded that, among other things, specializes in accelerating technology transfer and commercialization.

The specifics of the survey are proprietary, but they confirm two compelling issues relating to the nature of Maryland’s challenges and opportunities for bioscience growth.

First, of course, is the challenge of attracting investors that is widely cited by virtually anyone in our state’s life science industry. Maryland has one of the smallest percentages of life sciences companies that have raised substantial private capital, according to the center’s findings.

A contributing factor might be a mismatch between types of life sciences companies here and the types of companies that attract investors, Truman suggested. For example, the overwhelming interest of biotechnology investors is in therapeutics and diagnostic companies. But the largest sector of Maryland life sciences firms is comprised of companies that provide research and development services – a sector that attracts much less comparative interest from investors.

Second, bioscience advocates here have often observed that, though there is an abundance of scientific expertise in Maryland life sciences companies, a lack of sufficient business management expertise constrains development. Survey findings confirm that perception, according to Truman.

Maryland government may have to examine its strategic approach to life sciences funding to ensure that state incentives are supporting companies that are best equipped to compete and to generate economic growth and job creation, Truman suggests.

Her recommendations included better evaluation of which life sciences companies receive state assistance and incentives, more business management coaching for life sciences firms, and stronger tracking of the performance of companies that receive state incentives.

Business advocates in Maryland continue to face the challenge of how to nurture a level of economic growth and job creation in the life sciences industry that reflects the abundance of research that exists within our state’s borders.

Admittedly, Truman’s findings and recommendations reflect one expert perspective on a complex economic development issue. But it does raise issues worth pursuing and suggests a logical framework for the next step to gain traction in efforts to grow Maryland’s life sciences industry.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

Maryland’s stormwater fees: a lesson in uneven policy making

Council should opt for ‘win-win’ approach, not ‘magic bullet’ for local hiring effort

Closing the ‘disconnect’ with elected officials over competitiveness

City takes constructive step toward strategy for job growth

Federal fiscal uncertainty could erode states’ infrastructure funding options