In one form or another, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made innovators out of nearly everyone. As businesses pivoted to accommodate new safety restrictions and meet the changing needs of their customers, schools sought new ways to keep students engaged and working parents sought to balance the strange new reality of working remotely and looking after their children simultaneously.
The global crisis required bold, new ideas on every scale, and many of Maryland’s private companies answered that call. Companies stepped up to deploy resources, expertise and creativity to develop new medical treatments and provide much-needed protective equipment to protect our front-line workers in their hour of need.
Bolstered by world-class research facilities such as the University System of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins University, Maryland life sciences companies have led the charge in developing vaccines and therapeutics to fight Coronavirus as well as improved diagnostic tests, which are essential for tracking the spread of COVID-19.
Maryland companies have secured more than $3 billion to develop a vaccine, including $1.6 billion for the Gaithersburg-based Novavax; $225 million for the Bethesda-based Longhorn Vaccines and Diagnostics; and $4.7 million for Altimmune, also based in Gaithersburg. Companies cited Maryland’s strong community of biotechnology firms as a key reason these projects are able to move forward.
“Maryland’s life sciences cluster enhances our ability to partner with pharmaceutical and biotechnology innovators,” Robert G. Kramer, president and CEO of EmergentBiosolutions, which has signed $1.5 billion in contracts with several other companies to support vaccine development as part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Operation Warp Speed, said in a statement. “Along with our longstanding partnership with the federal government in support of its efforts to combat public health threats, we are uniquely positioned to work quickly to help advance vaccine and hyperimmune therapeutic candidates,” Kramer said.
Faculty at the University System of Maryland are working to develop a rapid COVID-19 test as well as an experimental stem-cell therapy to help the sickest coronavirus patients. The Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health are working together to test the efficacy of blood plasma from survivors of the virus, recently touted by President Trump as a potential treatment. Both institutions have received millions in federal funding to support those and other avenues of COVID-19-related research.
Early on, Maryland’s manufacturing industry also stepped up to meet the urgent needs of the Coronavirus era, with many companies increasing production of – or pivoting to begin production of – personal protective equipment, or PPE, such as masks, gowns and face shields. To support this effort, the Maryland Department of Commerce in March launched the $5 million Maryland COVID-19 Emergency Relief Manufacturing Fund, which offered grants of up to $100,000 to eligible companies. More than 50 manufacturers from across the state used this program to bolster production.
“With [Commerce’s] help, we have been able to secure more materials and production equipment to help meet the desperate need for PPE,” Chris McCormick, founding partner of the Howard County-based Hatch Exhibits, said in a statement. The company, which normally produces trade show booths and exhibits, used its grant funds to pivot to producing gowns and face shields. “We are so thankful to be keeping our employees at work and to be providing help during this crisis,” McCormick said.
Other manufacturing grant recipients include the Carroll County-based CoastTec, which usually produces battery back-ups for computers but began producing batteries for ventilators; DVF Corporation, a Washington County metal and plastic fabricator which began producing respirator components; Baltimore City-based Harbor Designs, which began producing ventilators; and Frederick’s Patriot Technologies, which manufactures face shields.
The private companies and the research universities stepping up to meet the unprecedented challenges that have emerged this year are part of why Maryland is consistently named as one of the most innovative states in the country by sources including WalletHub and Bloomberg. These rankings consider factors such as research and development spending in the state, concentration of STEM professionals, density of technology companies and others.
Maryland also boasts the highest concentration of employed doctoral scientists and engineers in the country, and the highest concentration of workers in STEM occupations. The state ranks first in the country for federal research and development obligations, and is home to 78 federal laboratories, more than twice as many as any other state. Collectively, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. are the fourth largest biopharma cluster behind Boston/Cambridge, the San Francisco Bay Area, and New York and New Jersey.
Maryland’s assets also include military facilities such as Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade and federal agencies including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
These institutions, businesses, and creative minds mean Maryland is fertile soil for exciting new business ventures in the life sciences, cybersecurity, aerospace and defense and other innovative fields—something the Maryland Department of Commerce felt was due for additional recognition this year. Even before COVID-19, Commerce planned to spend 2020 showcasing and celebrating Maryland’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and cutting-edge small businesses. As the fight against the pandemic continues, and the importance of cutting-edge solutions to these new challenges grows ever clearer, this project is even more timely.
The multifaceted “Innovation Uncovered” campaign is using blog posts, videos, and social media promotion to highlight the most creative innovative businesses Maryland has to offer. The centerpiece of the project will be the search for the “Maryland Future 20,” a list of innovative Maryland startups with the potential to become the state’s next major business success story.
“These ‘hidden innovators’ may be working in a campus lab, a business incubator, or in a garage or basement. But they might be the next big thing in Maryland business,” Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz said in a statement. “We need your help to identify them so we can put them in the spotlight and help show the world that Maryland is the place for innovative ideas and businesses to take root and thrive.”
Schulz noted that the campaign is another way example of why Maryland is a great place to do business.
“While we’ve spent much of this year focused on helping sustain our business community through the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no question that Maryland remains a hub for innovation,” Hogan said in a statement. “We are still Open For Business, and the ‘Innovation Uncovered’ campaign will highlight why our state will continue to thrive no matter what challenges we face.”
While many Maryland companies were pivoting to address COVID-19, economic development officials were still working hard to help companies expand and attract new companies to the state.
Kite Pharma’s new biologics manufacturing facility that will produce innovative cell therapies for people with cancer is currently under construction in Frederick County, as is a new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility for Modavar Pharmaceuticals, which plans to produce life-saving products for a number of health problems and will serve pediatric and geriatric patients with individualized treatments.
Aurinia Pharmaceuticals, a Canadian biopharmaceutical company, is opening its U.S. commercial operations in Montgomery County and plans to bring up to 500 new jobs to the region over the next seven years. The company is opening the new facility as it prepares for the potential approval and launch of voclosporin, an investigational drug to treat lupus nephritis, in 2021.
In addition, Aphena Pharma Solutions, a company that provides packaging and manufacturing solutions for the medical industry, is expanding its manufacturing operations in Talbot County and adding 100 new jobs, and Lidl, one of the fastest growing U.S. retailers, announced a major expansion in August 2020, with plans to double its footprint in Maryland with 10 new stores and 400 new jobs.