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UM strives to unify tech corridor

By Wallace Loh and Jay Perman
2:14 p.m. EST, February 27, 2015

Maryland's road to a stronger high-tech economy lies at the intersection of its I-95 and I-270 corridors. Better integration of education, research and development in the state's two biggest innovation centers — the Washington suburbs and Baltimore — will spur success.

In less than three years, a strategic collaboration between the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore , called "MPowering the State," has dramatically energized technology development along these corridors.

The 30 miles separating our two universities seem to be shrinking. Several dozen faculty members have joint appointments. Our scientists collaborate on research and commercializing new technologies. Joint academic programs give graduate and undergraduate students more classroom and lab opportunities, helping to meet the state's education and workforce needs.

This teamwork attracts major support. MPower research teams have jointly secured $79 million in federal funding. Industry has added millions more for product development.

College Park engineers and scientists form complementary teams with Baltimore's biomedical, surgical and imaging researchers to develop the new toolbox of "personalized" medicine. Already, teams are developing a new generation of medical devices customized for individual patients.

Those teams are also developing promising new vaccines, novel ways to deliver medications with great precision, immersive virtual reality that puts a doctor "next" to faraway patients and robots that reach into the brain where a surgeon cannot go.

In turn, this work attracts new and expanded partnerships with industry. It also links the established I-270 biotech cluster with the growing one in downtown Baltimore. Connecting this research and development triangle — in Montgomery County, College Park and Baltimore — builds a critical mass of innovation and entrepreneurship that beckons investors and talent.

For example, MPower's Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research (IBBR) is capitalizing on its I-270 location, building strong partnerships with the nearby National Institute of Standards and Technology and international corporations like AstraZeneca's MedImmune. The Dutch agro-biotech company Keygene recently set up its North American headquarters on the IBBR campus.

To increase efficiency and impact, we have combined our commercialization operations. Now, more people aggressively and jointly market inventions. Others actively scout for promising university discoveries. The state has helped by adding new early-stage funding to promote commercialization.

The result: In three years, inventions jumped 78 percent, corporate licensing of our technology rose 82 percent and licensing revenues grew 158 percent. Together, we've launched 26 new startup firms.

Another MPower initiative will combine the strengths of both campuses in a new center for health, sports medicine and human performance.

Collaboration and efficiencies are critical in this uncertain budget environment, and MPower represents smart progress.

Wallace Loh is president of the University of Maryland, College Park. Jay Perman is president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore.