Mark Herzog will step down as executive director of the Virginia Biotechnology Association on June 1, departing after 12 years of building up a life sciences industry that’s often overshadowed by its neighbors.
The commonwealth’s life sciences community has blossomed over the past decade, Herzog said. The organization added a record 46 members in the past fiscal year.
The heavy concentration of life sciences companies along Maryland’s Interstate 270 corridor and in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park tend to command more attention through their size and prestige.
“It’s easier when the cluster [of companies] is all within a 25-mile radius for that sense of critical mass,” Herzog said. “If you took all the biotech communities in Virginia and put them all in one place, I think it would be fair to have the conclusion it would be higher profile than it is today.”
Herzog said the community is fragmented in part because life sciences firms tend to crop up around prominent research universities. The distance between George Mason University in Fairfax and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg stretches about 250 miles.
“That’s just the fate of geography,” he said.
Still, Virginia’s biotechnology community has been buoyed by its location in other ways. It has partnered with Maryland on Mid-Atlantic Bio, a prominent regional conference, since 2005. North Carolina will join for the first time this fall.
As he prepares to leave, Herzog said the financial incentives for biotechnology companies that have passed the Virginia legislature in recent years, including tax credits and research grants, stand among the organization’s most significant accomplishments.
And what still needs to be done? Construct more drug or chemical “wet” lab space in Northern Virginia, Herzog said. The laboratories are necessary for research but expensive to build.
Herzog will serve as senior vice president for corporate and government affairs at Health Diagnostic Laboratory, a Richmond-based company that conducts clinical tests.
His exit leaves the largest biotech trade associations on either side of the Potomac without permanent leadership. The Tech Council of Maryland has had an interim chief executive since Renée Winsky’s departure late last year.