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Capital Business
Posted at 01:54 PM ET, 06/29/2011

Md. Biotechnology Center grants $1.8M to nine life sciences firms

The smartphone-like blood sugar meter that Bethesda-based Telcare has developed to improve care for diabetes patients has attracted financial investors who want to see the device move to market as quickly as possible.

That singular focus leaves little room in the budget to simultaneously create the company’s future products, said Chief Executive Jonathan Javitt. That’s where a recent grant from Maryland will prove useful, he said.

“As a CEO who has to account for every dollar to the board, this is the money I use to build the next generation product,” Javitt said in an interview. “The board wants me to use the [investor’s] money for the product that’s delivered tomorrow. Maryland is giving me the money to deliver a product next year. “

The Maryland Biotechnology Center doled out $1.8 million in grant money to nine life science firms that plan to commercialize university technology or have made steps to bring a product to market. This is the grant program’s second year and awards average $200,000 per recipient.

For the biotechnology industry, that’s a very modest sum. Companies often require millions of dollars to bring products under development through the regulatory process and out to the market.

But several of the executives at Wednesday’s awards ceremony – which was hosted at this year’s Biotechnology Industry Organization conference in the District – said capital in hand is welcome regardless of its size.

William Gust has raised $1.5 million for Baltimore-based Plasmonix, where he serves as president and chief executive. But the former venture capitalist said investors in a tough economic climate shy away from early-stage biotech firms.

“There are some exceptions, but they’re few and far between,” he said. “It is the capital void that the public sector should be focused on.”

Grant applicants were required to prove that the state’s small injection of cash could be used to attract additional money or would significantly advance the company’s products, said Judy Britz, executive director of the Maryland Biotechnology Center, which is housed within the Department of Business and Economic Development.

Indeed, that’s the case for Rockville’s 20/20 GeneSystems. The firm earned a $3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute in October on the condition it secure matching funds. The award from the biotechnology center contributed to that effort.

“The DBED award came at exactly the right time for us,” said chief executive Jonathan Cohen. “Essentially this $200,000 became $400,000.”

The nine awardees include:

• NeuroNascent, of Clarksville, develops therapies for the treatment of depression and other neurodegenerative disorders.

• Rockville-based Noble Life Sciences develops a tool to inform clinicians about which biomarkers indicate how a patient will respond to treatment.

• Unither Virology, of Silver Spring, works on an antiviral drug.

• Baltimore’s Paragon Bioservices established the stem cell consortium with the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

• A & G Pharmaceutical, of Columbia, develops a test for breast cancer progression.

• DioGenix, of Gaithersburg, develops a blood-based molecular diagnostic test for multiple sclerosis.

• Rockville’s 20/20 GeneSystems develops a test to predict kidney and breast tumors.

• Telcare, of Bethesda, created a blood glucose meter that uses cellular technology to offer real-time feedback and monitoring.

• Plasmonix, of Baltimore, develops metal-enhanced fluorescent products.

By  |  01:54 PM ET, 06/29/2011

 
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