The Download: A roundup of the Biotechnology Industry Organization convention

The Biotechnology Industry Organization’s annual international convention, held in the District last week, served as the backdrop for several news items of interest to the local biotechnology community.

Here’s a roundup:

Meet the chairman

Human Genome Sciences chief executive H. Thomas Watkins left the convention with a new title after being chosen as the next chairman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s board of directors.

The designation will put Watkins in a more visible role at a time when the organization plans to put increased pressure on federal agencies and legislators to reform the regulatory process for life sciences products.

“Providers of capital don’t want to put their money up for something if they’re concerned that at the end of the regulatory review process, they’re not sure what they’re going to get,” Watkins said in an interview. “We need more predictability, more transparency, more consistency.”

Other local executives elected to the board are Rachel King, president and chief executive of Gaithersburg-based GlycoMimetics; and Doug Doerfler, president and chief executive of Gaithersburg-based MaxCyte.

MedImmune update

At a time when many large pharmaceutical companies are scaling back in-house research and development programs, Gaithersburg-based MedImmune has seen its ranks swell considerably.

President Peter Greenleaf said the company has added about 900 staff members since 2008 alone, with plans to add a few hundred more this year. The company has become the home base of biologics research for parent company AstraZeneca since its merger in 2007.

How do you recruit from this area? Is there sufficient level of talent here?

“As the base of biotech has been growing here, it’s still a lot of early discovery. . . . There’s another level of experience that we need to pull in from outside the area and that’s more long-standing experience in doing drug development [and] commercialization within the pharmaceutical and biotech area.”

On other biotech hubs:

“People move to those areas because of a company but they stay in those areas because there are more companies to potentially go to. There’s this anchoring effect of having stable companies in the area.”

On the local scene:

“In today’s current market economy, the move is more to create assets [that can then be acquired]. If you have just discovery-based companies, these will never be anchor companies. They will be companies that transact. And that doesn’t provide a lot of stability for employees coming into the area.”

Noble effort

The founders at Rockville’s Noble Life Sciences are opening up their lab space — along with their wallets and corporate experience — to five fledgling biotech firms with novel therapeutic and diagnostic products under development.

The company’s new venture arm, called BlackRock BioCapital, complements its business providing preclinical research and development assistance to drugmakers. The fund expects to make its first investment by year’s end.

“I think this model is really going to resonate because people see it as a way to really capitalize on some of the experience in the region and some of the capital from local entrepreneurs,” said Ken Carter, the company’s chief executive.

Bio capital

In other investment news: A source close to H.I.G. Capital said the venture firm has closed on about $200 million of its planned $250 million fund that’s slated for investment in biotechnology and life sciences businesses.

Bruce Robertson, one of the fund’s managing partners in Rockville, confirmed that fundraising was ongoing but declined to comment further until it is complete. Investors may close on smaller sums within a fund before the total amount is in hand.

Grants

The Maryland Biotechnology Center granted $200,000 to nine of the state’s biotechnology start-ups that plan to commercialize university technology or have made strides to bring their own products to market.

The modest sum won’t go very far considering biotechs often consume millions of dollars during the development process, so applicants had to prove the capital injection would have a meaningful impact.

The recipients were NeuroNascent of Clarksville; Noble Life Sciences of Rockville; Unither Virology of Silver Spring; Paragon Bioservices of Baltimore; A&G Pharmaceutical of Columbia; DioGenix of Gaithersburg; 20/20 GeneSystems of Rockville; Telcare of Bethesda; and Plasmonix of Baltimore.

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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