- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

Maryland’s biotechnology industry hopes to lure scientists and other companies to the state if the General Assembly passes a stem-cell research program proposed Wednesday by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, called for spending $20 million for a stem-cell research fund, which would provide grants to research institutions and private companies.

Just a handful of states — California, Connecticut, New Jersey and Illinois — offer funding for the highly debated scientific research, which often uses adult and embryonic stem cells, which are taken from a fertilized human egg.

“What I’m hearing is that this would not just keep scientists in the academic arena here, but it also would be positive for players in this space because of the constant collaboration between industry and researchers,” said Julie Coons, president for the Tech Council of Maryland, a Rockville technology think tank.

The funding likely would give Maryland an edge over other states, even though embryonic stem-cell research is still in the early stages of development, said Patrick Kelly, spokesman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a Washington trade group.

States that fund stem-cell research initially will receive requests from universities and research institutes, Mr. Kelly said.

“By and large, stem-cell technology companies are a small amount of the thousand-plus companies we represent,” he said.

However, once researchers develop a cell-based medicine or technology that can be commercialized, biotechnology firms generally rush to work with the scientists.

The University of Maryland plans to “aggressively compete” for the funds, said Jim Hughes, vice president for research and development at the University of Maryland at Baltimore.

The funding may help the University of Maryland keep its researchers and recruit more, Mr. Hughes said.

While the university has not lost any staff to California colleges and research centers, that state’s research fund hurt the University of Maryland’s recruiting efforts, he said.

California voters in November 2004 approved a bond measure that devotes $3 billion to stem-cell experiments, making it the largest state-supported research program in the nation. But that program has been stalled in litigation, with no payments made to date.

“We ended up licensing stem-cell technology to a company located in California, which was based there because of the initiative. Hopefully future licensing will be to Maryland companies,” Mr. Hughes said.

Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, which has conducted adult stem-cell research with biotechnology companies, was encouraged by the proposal, said spokesman Gary Stephenson. He would not disclose any plans the university has for the potential funding.

But the quality of researchers often outweighs available funding, said David Greenwood, chief financial officer for Geron Corp., a Menlo Park, Calif., biopharmaceutical company that specializes in cell-based therapies.

“We would not be pulled by money availability. We form collaborations predicated on where the best researchers are,” Mr. Greenwood said, adding that Geron has worked with Johns Hopkins on cell-based research.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide