Budget cuts cast pall on Montgomery biotech businesses -- Gazette.Net


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With federal sequestration cutting more than $1 billion from the National Institutes of Health’s budget this year, Philip Bryan is concerned about future funding opportunities for his Montgomery County biotechnology company.

Potomac Affinity Proteins has received much of its funding through NIH grants and awards from the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Innovation Research program. But funding for small companies such as his could become more difficult to obtain, Bryan said.

“Sequestration has changed the landscape for companies like ours,” said Bryan, a professor with the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research in Rockville, a University System of Maryland institute designed to further collaboration among the University of Maryland and federal agencies.

The automatic, across-the-board spending cuts are in effect for the fiscal 2013 budget that ends Sept. 30. U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) of Pikesville said he is hopeful the sequestration cloud surrounding NIH and other agencies can be lifted as members of Congress continue debate over the federal budget.

It’s “not acceptable” to make across-the-board cuts that don’t take into account public priorities, he said.

“We need to get rid of these mindless cuts,” Cardin said.

President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget plan replaces across-the-board sequestration cuts with smarter savings, he said. But Cardin said he was troubled by other aspects, such as reducing federal workers’ benefits.

Cardin and Rep. John Delaney (D-Dist. 6) of Potomac met with biotech executives this week at the Johns Hopkins University campus in the heart of Rockville’s biotech corridor. Montgomery County has about 300 biotech companies, more than most counties nationally, according to county figures.

The federal Jobs Act, implemented about a year ago to try to boost small companies, has not done enough to help the process, said Jonathan Cohen, president and CEO of Rockville biotech 20/20 GeneSystems.

“It’s a private-equity funding issue,” Cohen said.

The Montgomery County Council recently passed a bill that would enable the county to make a direct equity investment in a company. The state of Maryland also began the InvestMaryland program last year to boost private equity funding.

Gaithersburg biotech company Cytomedix is among the beneficiaries of the state program, having recently received a $500,000 investment through the InvestMaryland program. The money is part of a $27.5 million capital program that Cytomedix executives say will help them add 13 employees to the current staff of 55.

Commercialization

The congressional reps also spoke about encouraging more companies to commercialize their products. Researchers in Montgomery County and Maryland are great at innovation and coming up with ideas, but not taking the next step to market products, said Delaney, founder and chairman emeritus of Chevy Chase commercial financing company CapitalSource, who unseated longtime Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R) in November.

Entrepreneurs in California’s Silicon Valley have the “mindset” to commercialize ideas that businesses here could learn from, said Scott Carmer, executive vice president of commercial operations for Gaithersburg biotech MedImmune.

Delaney said that could be because in Silicon Valley there was such an aspiration for people to “start a company out of their garage,” while in this area, the aspirations for many have been more toward public policy.

“It’s a serious question we have to deal with,” Delaney said of how Montgomery County researchers can better commercialize ideas.

kshay@gazette.net