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Md. Biotech Firms Expected at Front Line of New War

By Bobby White
Capital News Service
Monday, Sept. 24, 2001

ANNAPOLIS - As the nation gears up for a war against terrorism, a handful of Maryland companies will play a major role in countering some of the most dangerous possible enemy weapons -- biological and chemical agents. 

Defense contractors and emergency preparedness groups are tapping into the more than 250 companies that constitute Maryland's rich biotechnology industry, as they prepare for a threat. 

"There is a critical need for the development of vaccines as well as therapies and diagnostics," said Tom Inglesby, spokesman for the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies in Baltimore. "The power of biology is certainly growing, and as scientists explore more, the more they discover ways to use that technology for bad." 

When hijacked jets slammed into the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, any thought that terrorists would avoid weapons that would cause mass casualties in this country was shattered, said Inglesby. "Clearly history does not predict the future," he said. "We have the capabilities of being prepared." 

Investors are beginning to recognize the Maryland biotechnology companies' likely role in a future conflict. Shares of the biological testing and manufacturing company BioReliance Corp. rose 70 cents to $13 on the first day of trading after the New York Stock Exchange reopened. BioReliance, in Rockville, won two contracts last year to produce large quantities of a smallpox vaccine for the Department of Defense and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meridian Medical Technologies, which supplies nerve gas antidotes, also saw stock prices rise, up $2 to close at $14. Meridian also manufactures auto-injectors, which, when pressed against the skin, quickly administer the antidote to victims. CEO James Miller said over the past few days his company has received more calls about products. 

Tetracore, a Gaithersburg company that produces tests that quickly identify if a person was struck with a biological agent like anthrax, has also received a lot of inquiries. Gary Long, senior scientist, said fire and police departments as well as hazardous materials response teams purchase many of the company's devices.

"These are some of the basic instruments that save lives," he said. 

Maryland's strong biotechnology environment has helped spawn a number of companies, according to Larry Mayhan, senior bioscience executive for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. The proximity to Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, among others, has brought in new companies, and the institutions have provided many of the minds behind these companies.

"This area generates a lot of scientific information where work can be produced," Mayhan said. "Really good work."

Copyright 2001 University of Maryland College of Journalism

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