LEFT: Dr. Arti Santhanam and Dr. La Shaun Berrien Sign the MOU; RIGHT: Joseph Caravalho and Troy LeMaile-Stovall shake hands following the signing
MII, HJF Formalize Partnership, Sowing the Seeds for Continued Life Science Innovation in Maryland
By Sarah Ellinwood
February 14, 2023
On February 8, representatives from TEDCO, The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine (HJF), and the local community at large came together to witness and celebrate the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII) Executive Director Dr. Arti Santhanam and HJF Vice President for Research Administration and Innovation Management Dr. La Shaun Berrien.
Universities are a goldmine of research projects that have the potential to produce valuable therapies and medical technologies. The problem, though, is that many PIs and researchers either don’t have the knowledge to develop their technology beyond the lab, or they don’t have the funding to carry it forward.
For over 10 years the MII program, nestled under the TEDCO umbrella, has ignited innovation across the state of Maryland by promoting commercialization of research conducted at five Maryland partner universities: Johns Hopkins University; Morgan State University; University of Maryland, Baltimore; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and University of Maryland, College Park. So far the program’s efforts have helped in the creation of 144 startups, $629M in follow-on funding, and seven exits according to a recent press release.
“Our mission is to accelerate the commercialization of promising technology from bench to market through investments in innovation, entrepreneurship and venture creation,” remarked Arti.
HJF was authorized by Congress in 1983 to advance military medicine. The nonprofit manages a portfolio of nearly 14,000 awards, resulting in over 1,000 patents, over 200 technologies licensed to industry, and over 35 products brought to market. Today the HJF is one of the largest nonprofits in the DC area, partnering with the DoD, other federal labs (such as the NIH), as well as academia and industry.
“You would be hard-pressed to find professionals that are more dedicated to their mission than those of us who work at HJF,” noted La Shaun.
Through the partnership, MII and HJF will work together to not only bring new medicines and technologies to the public, but also to members of the armed forces.
In the spirit of collaboration the pop-up event not only celebrated MII and HJF’s official partnership, but also the other players in the BioHealth Capital Region who are working tirelessly to not just build a life sciences ecosystem, but cultivate it.
Dan Kunitz, NSF I-Corps instructor, reflected on the infamous “valley of death” life science entrepreneurs must pass in order to go from an initial idea and funding all the way to commercialization, and how Maryland must embrace creative ways of thinking to help its companies thrive, especially through tumultuous times. He noted how traditional models relied on bringing industry into academic labs to get a first-hand look at technologies, hoping that companies might see the value in what these researchers were working on.
“I-Corps started with this idea that maybe there’s a new way where we can more proactively push our [university] researchers and our innovators to identify the problems, explore, map them out, build business models around them, and engage with industry more proactively,” Dan said. “One of the problems we try to solve is not building the ship before we’ve understood what the plan is. We don’t want to overengineer, we don’t want to overplan, but we want to emphasize the need to search for that path before we get out and start to build companies.”
Bob Storey, Managing Partner of Baltimore-based medtech accelerator LaunchPort, shared similar sentiments. He noted MII’s important role in not only building entrepreneurs, but giving them the resources so that they want to stay and expand in Maryland. “What’s happened for many years is these companies, these innovators would spin out and then they’d leave. They’d participate in our fantastic incubator programs, and then they’d go to Pittsburgh. They’d go to Boston. They’d go to Cleveland. How do you ensure they stay around and contribute to this ecosystem?”
“Companies like LaunchPort and programs such as I-Corps are so crucial for us to have successful venture creation happen in Maryland,” added Arti during her remarks. “We’re working with Johnson & Johnson’s JLABS. We’re working with the Association of University Research Parks (AURP) as well as Children’s National. Together we’re creating a regional hub for innovation and entrepreneurship, and we’re so happy to welcome HJF into the fold and add their name as a partner.”
Following the signing, members of the community were able to chat with companies supported by these various programs, many of whom told BioBuzz that they wouldn’t be where they are today without the external support they received. One such medtech we had the pleasure of talking to, BLOCKsynop, fully embraces the spirit of the Maryland biohub – fearless innovators who aren’t afraid to stray from the well-traveled path.
The team, led by President/CEO Shari Sternberger and CTO Wayne Sternberger, Ph.D., are working on a clinical monitoring device that can objectively measure how well an anathestia is working – a huge leap from the current SOC that involves putting pressure on the location and asking the patient if they feel anything. “It’s like wearing a dress – you can wear different earrings, put on makeup, or add different accessories to get a new look, but the dress itself is still the same. That’s what we’ve seen in this field – no one has taken the effort to make an entirely new dress,” noted Shari.
If the energy in the room was any indication, 2023 is looking bright for the Maryland biohub.
“We’ve used the word “ecosystem” a lot today. And if you think about the definition, it’s about organisms working and living together in a symbiotic way. But what we’re talking about here today is about how we all can come together to make a better Maryland,” said TEDCO CEO Troy LeMaile-Stovall. “That’s what it’s about – how do we take out ‘individualism’ and create ‘together-ism’?”
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Sarah Ellinwood is BioBuzz’s Managing Editor. A scientist by training and a science communicator at heart, Sarah specializes in making complex concepts understandable, engaging, and exciting. She received her Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology with a focus in infectious disease immunology from the University of Maryland and is passionate about all things related to scicomm, peer mentorship, and women in STEM.