5 Questions with Ulyana Desiderio, Director of BioHealth and Life Sciences in the Maryland Department of Commerce

“5 Questions With……” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people in the BioHealth Capital Region to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This edition features 5 Questions with Ulyana Desiderio, Director of BioHealth, and Life Sciences in the Maryland Department of Commerce.

Ulyana Desiderio joined the Maryland Department of Commerce in April 2020 as Director of BioHealth and Life Sciences.  She leads efforts that support the growth of Maryland’s life sciences community, including job creation, capital investment, and new business formation. Prior to joining Commerce, Ulyana served as Chief Scientific Officer for the American Society of Hematology (ASH), the largest international medical association dedicated to blood diseases.  In her role, she developed and implemented strategies that advanced organizational scientific priorities as well as federal policies that affect fundamental research and the practice of medicine. Prior to joining ASH, Ulyana completed the Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Population, where she was involved in a project on collecting, storing, and protecting biological samples and data.  Ulyana holds B.S. degrees in Biological Sciences and Chemistry from Drexel University and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

1. What was your first job/role in Biotech and Life Sciences?

I chose to do my undergraduate studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, in part because of its cooperative education (co-op) program that allows students to alternate six months of classes with six months of full-time employment in one’s area of study.  I was fortunate to have all three of my co-ops in different labs at Rohm and Haas, a global specialty materials company that was acquired by Dow in 2009.  I started as a lab technician in an agricultural technology lab, followed by a stint in the toxicology department and finishing in a spin-out joint venture that developed tools for human gene therapies.  It was an invaluable industry experience that reinforced my interest in discovery research and its applications to human health.

2. Tell us about your current role, your current employer, and how it connects to the BioHealth Capital Region.

I joined the Maryland Department of Commerce as the Director of BioHealth and Life Sciences in April of this year.  Our main goals are to support job creation, capital investment, and new business formation within Maryland’s life sciences community.  We provide assistance to companies and other entities in our sector by connecting them to partners and resources they may need for growth and expansion.  We also help with activities aimed at attracting life sciences companies to Maryland – it is a complicated and rewarding team effort across the entire Department of Commerce that involves business development, international affairs, financing, marketing, and other groups I am still learning about. 

We are lucky to have many organizations to partner with across the Capital Region to support the innovation engine of Maryland’s unique life sciences assets.  For now, everything has shifted to virtual, of course, from trade shows to daily business development activities – but we are adjusting like everyone else.  It’s been an interesting experience for me personally to make new connections in a remote environment, but I am getting there.  The Commerce team across the State is very helpful in that regard, and BioBuzz has been a great source of information for me.

3. What do you enjoy most about your role and why?

I enjoy the problem-solving and customer service aspects of the Maryland Department of Commerce.  It’s always a good feeling to help a business find the right resource, partner, or connection.  I like meeting new people and building strong relationships based on common interests.  As a scientist, it’s exciting to learn about the research and development happening across the State – there is so much innovation to keep up with.  It makes my work in business attraction easy – the “Why Maryland” story practically tells itself – and I don’t get tired of telling it.  Finally, I enjoy working with a team of dedicated public servants with diverse expertise who have Maryland’s best interests in mind.

4. What are the main goals for Maryland Commerce in the biotech space for 2021 and beyond?

We are here, first and foremost, to support the Maryland life sciences industry.  We want to make sure that our companies thrive and prosper, and we are here to help in any way we can – from technical assistance and infrastructure support to access to talent.  We will be working closely with the Maryland Life Sciences Advisory Board to formulate our specific goals.  Our focus will remain on workforce development, technology commercialization and entrepreneurship, enhancing access to capital, and telling the Maryland life sciences story.

5. What are you interested in that most people may not know about you? Tell us about it.

I am interested in history, particularly English history, and have been reading a lot about the Tudors.  Most recently I finished Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, a magnificent historical saga that follows the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell.  Some of my other favorite authors are Antonia Frasier, Robert Massie, Stacey Schiff, Alison Weir, Dominic Lieven, Jane Austen, and A.S. Byatt. 

Thank you to Ulyana Desiderio for participating in the ‘5 Questions with BioBuzz’ series and stay tuned for more interviews with others from across the BioHealth Capital Region and beyond.

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