Donald Fry: MedImmune CEO frames bright future for bioscience

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By Donald C. Fry

For bioscience entrepreneurs and advocates who are working to strengthen bioscience industry growth in Maryland, meeting Peter Greenleaf, the new president of Gaithersburg-based MedImmune, and listening to what he has to say is both refreshing and enlightening.

In a time of global recession MedImmune, Maryland’s most prominent bioscience company, is on a hiring binge. Since 2007, when it was acquired by global pharma giant AstraZeneca to become, in effect, its global biologics unit, MedImmune has hired more than 1,000 employees worldwide and estimates that it will hire 1,000 more during the next two years.

During the last three years, MedImmune has almost tripled its portfolio – not just in projects, but in capital and infrastructure growth as well, Greenleaf recently told more than 100 people who crammed into the UMB BioPark conference center for a lecture that was part of the Greater Baltimore Committee’s bioscience speaker series.

“We’re aggressively hiring people in the area,” Greenleaf says. “We’re hiring an average of a couple hundred people every year,” he adds, noting that this has fostered “a great relationship” with the governor.

“Last year we hired more than 600 people. This year we’re projected to hire more than that,” he says. “It’s good for the local economy, for sure.”

In these economic times, this is about as refreshing as business news gets.

The enlightenment for bioscience advocates is that MedImmune is a living, breathing corporate example of a fully-integrated company in our midst that has made it through to the other side of the bioscience business experience.

From its founding in 1988 – prompted by a breakthrough mononuclear antibody – MedImmune successfully made its way past “death valley” and through the early-stage rigors of raising investment capital and going public three years after being incorporated.

Along the way, it has been a company of “firsts,” says Greenleaf. Its product Synagis is the only single cell-based antibody approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help prevent an infectious disease.

Another MedImmune product, FluMist, is the first advance in flu technology in 60 years and the only nasal spray flu vaccine approved in the U.S.

The company has grown from a $2.5 million concept two decades ago into a global bioscience leader with nearly $1.5 billion in annual revenue in 2006 and projected plans to make more than $500 million in capital investment over the next few years.

Greenleaf now faces the challenge of managing a bioscience company of this size. “It’s hard to keep your entrepreneurial roots as you’re trying to grow at that pace,” Greenleaf says.

The challenges he cites include rising demands of the health care system, higher costs that make it harder to develop drugs, and an aging population that is experiencing a growing resistance to drugs.

The regulatory environment is becoming “increasingly more difficult,” both from a public funding standpoint, but also on the benefit-risk side of the equation “where any new drug development is becoming a harder and higher hurdle to meet,” Greenleaf says.

Nevertheless, the business potential for biologics is there. Greenleaf predicts a “material flip” during the next 20 years in the top 100 drugs on the market. Right now, biologics comprise approximately 10 percent of medication on the market, but projections show that eventually 50 percent of total drug sales will come from biologic products.

So if you look “as to why AstraZeneca – that never had a position in biologics – wanted to acquire a company like MedImmune, that’s the business side,” says Greenleaf. “The future really is biotechnology products and vaccines.”

In Baltimore and Maryland, a top center for bioscience research in the nation, that future screams opportunity for bioscience entrepreneurs.

It also underscores the urgency for the business community and government to work together to ratchet up our efforts so that entrepreneurs can aggressively convert our wealth of research into economic development and jobs through bioscience industry growth here rather than somewhere else.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

Previous Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

Making transportation a top-tier priority

Primary voters in a mood for transition

Reading Maryland's fiscal tea leaves

Getting beyond sound bites and bumper stickers

Biotech tax credit more popular than ever, but the ‘rock-concert’ lines are gone

Bad timing for upcoming business tax report

For economic indicators, the ‘whipsaw’ effect continues

Do census data foretell a Baltimore city population rebound?

Remember the value of business after the election

New report ranks Baltimore among stronger regions to weather the recession

New living wage proposal: wrong idea, wrong time for Baltimore

Northeast needs more attention from federal rail planners

New national report has familiar ring for Maryland bioscience advocates

New report underscores Maryland’s work force development challenges

State’s health initiative: a ‘win-win’ for employers and their workforces

As Baltimore hikes taxes, are state’s counties next?

After the ‘fiber from heaven’ scramble, what’s next?

BRAC growth no longer a future event – it’s happening now

Economic development is a contact sport

Despite the recession, bioscience growth still percolates in Baltimore

State stumbles in enacting new education collective bargaining process

Wind power has potential in Maryland, but solar emerges as early renewable option

It's not good to be clueless in cyberspace

Amid fiscal shuffle, Maryland lawmakers pass measures to spur business growth

Thankfully, Baltimore leads with substance over style in luring Google

Leave damaging transportation provisions out of the budget

Amended budget continues recession-induced fund shifts and stimulus rescue

General Assembly setting stage for combined reporting push in 2011

Wrong timing for proposal to change Baltimore City school board

Baltimore City isn’t alone in facing pension funding challenges

A government investment program that delivers

Proposed transportation fund raid -- a bad habit continues

Where's the outrage over crime?

Small business is where innovation lives
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Donald C. Fry has been the president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), the central Maryland region's most prominent organization of business and civic leaders, since November 2002.

Under Don’s leadership, the GBC is recognized as a knowledgeable and highly credible business voice in the Baltimore region, Annapolis and Washington, D.C. on policy issues and competitive challenges facing Maryland. Its mission is to apply private-sector leadership to strengthening the business climate and quality of life in the region and state.

Fry served as GBC executive vice president from 1999 to 2002. From 1980 to 1999 Fry was engaged in a private law practice in Harford County. During this time he also served in the Maryland General Assembly. He is one of only a handful of legislators to have served on each of the major budget committees of the General Assembly.

Serving in the Senate of Maryland from 1997 to 1998, Fry was a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. As a member of the House of Delegates from 1991 to 1997 Fry served on the Ways and Means Committee and on the Appropriations Committee.

Fry is a 1979 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law. He earned a B.S. in political science from Frostburg State College.