BioHealth & Life Sciences
Maryland: The nexus of the fight against COVID-19
By Julie Miller /
October 21, 2020
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In the face of a global pandemic, the scientific community’s need to be nimble and responsive has never been more apparent. But the industry’s ability to pivot requires an ecosystem with all the elements for rapid innovation and collaboration. Maryland’s life sciences ecosystem, complete with esteemed academic institutions and federal laboratories, a density of biopharmaceutical and medical technology companies, and a healthy biomanufacturing sector, puts the state’s companies and universities in the nexus of the fight against COVID-19. 

Maryland Companies Respond to COVID-19

Maryland companies were at the ready to respond to COVID-19, with 25 percent of the state’s biopharmaceutical and medical technology companies focused on infectious diseases. Nearly 40 Maryland companies were involved in improving diagnostic tests, developing or manufacturing vaccines and therapeutics, or providing clinical research support or technological solutions and services to respond to the pandemic. Industry leaders such as AstraZeneca, Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD), GlaxoSmithKline, Emergent BioSolutions, Novavax, Pfizer, and Qiagen Sciences are among the Maryland companies involved in these efforts. 

To date, Maryland biotech companies have secured more than $6 billion in federal funding for SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development and production. Novavax received $1.6 billion through Operation Warp Speed to complete late-stage clinical development, establish large-scale manufacturing, and deliver 100 million vaccine doses as early as late 2020, as well as $388 million from the international Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and $60 million through a U.S. Department of Defense contract to support vaccine production.

"We are grateful to be part of Maryland's collaborative life sciences cluster that, together with the state's superb academic institutions, is making rapid progress in the fight against COVID-19," said Stanley C. Erck, president and chief executive officer of Novavax. “Novavax's swift response in developing one of the world's most promising vaccines for this pandemic is a testament to the value of these close relationships, rich local resources, and government support in effectively addressing pressing public health needs."  

Emergent BioSolutions signed contracts with AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, and Vaxart as well as with Operation Warp Speed for a total of $1.5 billion to support COVID-19 vaccine candidate development and manufacturing.

“Maryland’s life sciences cluster enhances our ability to partner with pharmaceutical and biotechnology innovators,” said Robert G. Kramer, president and CEO of Emergent BioSolutions. “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.”

Maryland Universities Respond to COVID-19

As the pandemic progressed, Maryland universities quickly mobilized to develop a comprehensive response. Johns Hopkins University dedicated $6 million in funding to support approximately 260 scientists and researchers working on more than 25 projects in interdisciplinary teams – from computational experts to cell biologists to clinicians. Hopkins’ School of Medicine is conducting more than 100 clinical studies to develop effective diagnostics and therapeutics for COVID-19. Together with the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the School of Medicine received $35 million from the Department of Defense to test the efficacy of convalescent blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors as a treatment option for people in the early stages of the disease. 

“As we confront a global pandemic on a scale not experienced since the 1918 flu, it is remarkable to see the extraordinary depth and breadth of expertise being galvanized against COVID from right here in Maryland,” said Ron Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University.
 
The University System of Maryland (USM) faculty are also at the forefront of coronavirus research, developing a rapid COVID-19 test using innovative nanoparticle techniques, conducting a clinical trial of experimental stem cell therapy to reduce deaths among the sickest patients, and studying novel antiviral compounds against SARS-CoV-2. The University of Maryland School of Medicine will receive up to $3.6 million over the next year from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to rapidly test hundreds of drugs approved and marketed for other conditions to see whether any can be repurposed to prevent or treat COVID-19. It was the first in the nation to test an mRNA-based vaccine candidate developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and is currently recruiting patients for the most advanced trial for a vaccine candidate developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health.

“It’s in crises like these that you see why Maryland is one of the country’s top biosciences hubs,” said University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay A. Perman. “Our USM institutions are on the front lines developing COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics, testing multiple vaccines, leading dozens of other R&D projects. But they’re also reaching out to our close industry partners, joining our assets and expertise to theirs so we can quickly commercialize COVID-19 solutions. There are few states that have the breadth and depth of our life sciences talent, and fewer still that have an ecosystem like ours that thrives on collaboration.”
 
In addition to powerful contributions from USM faculty, graduates from USM are also on the forefront of COVID response. The system reports that 20 percent of scientists working on a COVID vaccine in Maryland are USM graduates. 

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