Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. opened its new research facility in Rockville last week, becoming both the first Japanese company to build a biomedical research laboratory in the United States and the first biotechnology firm to open for business at Montgomery County's Shady Grove Life Sciences Center.

The county is promoting Shady Grove as the first industrial park in the nation dedicated to biotechnology. Local officials said they hope other pharmaceutical and genetic engineering firms will locate there to take advantage of Montgomery County's wealth of biotech resources.

A Shinto priest supervised dedication and purification rites for the new facility, according to Japanese corporate custom. Otsuka officials said the combination of federal agencies, universities, a highly trained labor pool and Montgomery County's enthusiasm led them to choose Shady Grove over six other possible U.S. locations.

The new biotech park's proximity to the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and universities such as Georgetown, Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland strongly influenced their decision, officials said.

Also attractive is the newly created Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology, which will be located at Shady Grove across the street from Otsuka's building, said one company spokesman. CARB is being created jointly by the University of Maryland, the National Bureau of Standards and Montgomery County as a focus for basic and applied research to meet changing corporate needs.

Otsuka's research arm, Maryland Research Laboratories, can draw on substantial local expertise, according to county officials. Montgomery County, with more than 100 medical science firms, has one of the largest concentrations of biotech experts in the nation. The Baltimore-Washington area employs more than 350,000 individuals in full-time medically related occupations, and has about 56,000 scientists and engineers -- more than any other U.S. metropolitan area, according to county officials.

Otsuka's regulatory operation, the Maryland Office of Clinical Research, will have easy access to FDA officals for help in planning clinical trials of new products and obtaining FDA approval.

"They needed a top-notch, highly trained work force," Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes said at the facility's dedication ceremony Thursday. "They needed the stimulation of outstanding universities and hospitals nearby, and they needed other scientific firms in the neighborhood. We knew Maryland had all that, and more, to offer."

"Also, the very high degree of enthusiasm demonstrated by the government of Montgomery County" made the difference, said Hideyuki Miwa, director of Otsuka's Tokushima Research Institute. Representatives of the county's Office of Economic Development have visited Japan twice, working to attract new business to the area.

The Japanese company gave special credit to Ioanna Morfessis, director of the economic development office. "It was largely through the efforts of Ms. Morfessis and her staff that Otsuka was first attracted to settle in Montgomery County," said Bill McHale, director of general affairs at Otsuka.

Otsuka, which has annual sales of about $900 million, first decided to build a U.S. research facility because "as you know, the U.S. leads all others in the field of biotechnology," Miwa said. The pharmaceutical company, one of more than 30 in the Otsuka Group, also considered locating in Boston, Long Island, Seattle, San Diego and Florida, he said.

The research facility, a one-story brick structure of 23,500 square feet, will not be a home for basic research, said Saburo Ayukawa, Otsuka's director of scientific affairs. Its focus will be the "development of pharmaceutical products," with research in the areas of immunology, cell biology, molecular biology and fermentation, he said.

Located on the Shady Grove campus, a 35-acre parcel on Route 28 just west of I-270, the research facility will employ 30 scientists, primarily Americans from the Washington area, Ayukawa said. The facility will employ another 17 administrative and clerical workers. Ayukawa said the concept for the $6.5 million facility was based on his experience at NIH, where he worked as a visiting associate from 1973 to 1981.