From Big Biotech to Startup Success: Top Five Takeaways from the 2018 BioHealth Capital Region Forum


John Trainer, Head of Partnering and Strategy

In the first quarter of 2017, the BioHealth Capital Region saw its biggest first quarter in startup funding in 16 years. The area— home to more than 800 life science companies, 70 federal labs and a host of top academic and research institutions—saw more than $473 million in venture capital secured.

How did it happen, and more importantly, how does the Region ensure this remains an upward trend?

The question is one MedImmune has committed to answering, in partnership with its neighbors and peers in the Region. And with nearly 1,000 attendees at this year’s BioHealth Capital Region Forum—hosted at our Gaithersburg headquarters, alongside leaders from biotech, the venture capitalist community, top healthcare providers, government, and academia—we have made some serious headway.

As we reflect on the Forum—and consider how this established biotech community can and does catalyze new growth— here are five top takeaways:

1.     We must continue to streamline the transfer of technologies from academia to business: Opening the lines of communication and encouraging interaction between universities and early-stage startup companies has accelerated the Region’s tech-transfer process. The combination of a wealth of top academic institutions in the area with the appetite to evolve research to a commercialized product can yield outputs like Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures and the University of Maryland bio park.

2.     We can make technologies created in the Region more investable: During the Forum’s venture capital session, “Investors with a Local Presence,” panelists from some of the region’s top investment firms shared that creating value-driven milestones and presenting a clear exit strategy that can be easily communicated to investors are key to securing funding.

3.     The Region’s unique talent pool is a strategic advantage for new and established organizations alike: The Region’s position to access a deep bench of sophisticated talent and industry decision makers can’t be undersold. Whether it’s from the University of Maryland—which produces the highest number of STEM grads in the country—or one of the nation’s top research centers like NIH and Johns Hopkins University, attendees resoundingly agreed that this asset is one that startups and VCs should heed.

4.     Capitalize (literally!) on the region’s local resources and global position:   The Region’s ability to attract local and international investors has been an asset for a number of local biotech startups. To illustrate, one highlight of the Forum’s venture capital conversation was Viela Bio, the new, independent biotech company for early-stage inflammation and autoimmunity, spun out from six molecules from MedImmune’s portfolio. The company honed its in-depth scientific and clinical development expertise to secure up to $250 million in venture capital — coming from sources around the globe, from Maryland to China.

5.     Collaboration is king: From CEOs to University Presidents to venture capitalists, speakers at the Forum emphasized the Region’s ability to provide connectivity to experienced entrepreneurs to help source talent. In fact, it’s a strategy MedImmune deploys through a new initiative: M-Labs is a mentoring program designed for companies and researchers affiliated with the Johns Hopkins FastForward accelerator.

This fall, the BioHealth Capital Region will continue nurturing the area’s entrepreneurial drive by hosting a first-of-its-kind event where companies will have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with investors (VC firms, strategic venture funds etc.) to encourage investment and growth. The BioHealth Capital Region Investment Conference will take place from October 9-10 at MedImmune. More information is to come on the BioHealth Capital Region website.

Special thanks go to the collaborators and cosponsors of the 2018 BioHealth Capital Region Forum, including BioHealth Innovation, VirginiaBio, Inova, Children’s National Health System, QIAGEN, Maryland Tech Council, and University System of Maryland.