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Jobs and startups are key to making Maryland a top life sciences ecosystem, says report

How can Maryland's life sciences sector keep growing an industry that's competitive with Massachusetts and North Carolina from a base of research talent? A new Milken Institute report commissioned by the Maryland Tech Council said more workforce programs, incubators and collaboration will help.

Novavax is running trials for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. (Courtesy photo)

This editorial article is a part of Tech + Health Month of's editorial calendar. This month’s theme is underwritten by the Chesapeake Digital Health Exchange. This story was independently reported and not reviewed by CDHX before publication.

Maryland has grown a life sciences industry from a base of research institutions and federal labs. A new report says that capitalizing on the potential for private sector growth must come from an increased focus on growing a base of talent and startups.

At the first day of its 2021 Bio Innovation Conference on Monday, the Maryland Tech Council’s life sciences division released a new report it commissioned from the Milken Institute.

Read the full report

“Maryland’s life sciences community is proud to be a national leader in life sciences discovery and innovation,” said Marty Rosendale, CEO of the Maryland Tech Council. “Our community also relishes the opportunity to get better, and this far-reaching report gives our public and private sectors a north star to follow as we seek to bolster our industry talent pipeline and our entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Here’s a look at the highlights from the report:

By the numbers

The report says that Maryland has grown “one of the nation’s strongest life sciences industries,” and lays out the size of it: The state has 2,700 life sciences firms, more than 500 biotech companies and 74 federal research labs.

Across federal labs, universities and companies that are clustered around them, the life sciences industry in Maryland employs over 54,000 people, according to the report. A high concentration of that talent is in research and development.

As a whole, employment in the life sciences sector grew 7.4% between 2015 and 2020. That trailed states like Massachusetts and North Carolina, which are also biotech leaders.

The work of making products proved to be the biggest recent growth area. In life sciences manufacturing, there was marked growth of 31% in Maryland. It shows that moves to bring on facilities like Catalent Pharma near BWI (formerly Paragon Bioservices) and Kite Pharma in Frederick add up to gains.

Growing talent

To grow further, the report states that Maryland should focus, for one, on talent. That means growing the pipeline of workers, and expanding workforce development efforts focused on life sciences. The report states that Maryland should focus on “streamlining job creation” in the life sciences industry. Existing public, private and nonprofit orgs already serve as a foundation, and could team up to create these, the report states.

Specific recommendations include:

  • Creating an industry-certified training curriculum to prepare workers for jobs, with a particular focus on those that do not require college degrees
  • Increasing awareness of life sciences jobs for residents in more rural counties through extension programs hosted by community colleges
  • Supporting training programs for advanced biomanufacturing, specifically cell and gene therapies

Growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem

“Historically, Maryland has struggled to develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem to rival its counterparts in Massachusetts and California,” the report states, noting how tech transfer is typically more difficult inside the federal labs and research institutions where innovators are concentrated in the state. Resources at universities, state-backed agency TEDCO and federal labs are forming a “starting point” for new ventures, the report states, and venture capital has grown.

To further grow the state’s attractiveness to private sector companies and venture capital, the state needs to increase space flex lab and manufacturing space available for early-stage commercial companies. Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore have stood up spaces in cities, which could include more growth beyond the DC and Baltimore metro areas. State leaders should consider matching funds raised by private entities for incubators, the report states. It should also consider incentives for converting existing commercial and life sciences spaces for life sciences manufacturing.

The bottom line here: The moves of the last decade are still early-stage moves in the ecosystem development lifecycle. More is needed to help the discoveries being made in labs go to the market.

What’s next?

The report’s big takeaway is that more collaboration is needed among industry, government, academic and nonprofit leaders. It’s the kind of effort to work together that was evident at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when companies, policymakers and researchers pooled resources to back efforts to develop vaccines, tests and therapeutics against COVID-19.

That same spirit of collaboration can emerge when it comes to applying for a “Build Back Better” grant opportunity from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act. With the grant available around the nation, Rosendale said the effort would be “a test of our ability to collaborate and form an effective coalition.”

Companies: Maryland Tech Council

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