Center Maryland Editorial: Maryland’s Golden R&D Triangle – on Steroids

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A year ago, the presidents of the University of Maryland’s premier public research universities – Jay Perman of Baltimore and Wallace Loh of College Park – penned an article praising joint efforts to create a research and development triangle fusing their dynamic campuses with Montgomery County’s technology-rich I-270 corridor.

“Maryland's road to a stronger high-tech economy lies at the intersection of its I-95 and I-270 corridors,” they wrote in the Baltimore Business Journal.

“Better integration of education, research and development in the state's two biggest innovation centers — the Washington suburbs and Baltimore — will spur success.

Taking the next big step in building one of the nation’s great regional R&D centers is a natural progression for Maryland. It is happening now in Annapolis.

A bill that passed the State Senate last week would create a high-powered “strategic partnership” between UM’s flagship institution at College Park and its “founding campus” of professional schools in Baltimore. Such a move would accelerate research collaborations, innovations and spin-off companies for Maryland.

It’s about time.

For decades, the Baltimore and Washington regions went their separate ways – Baltimore circling its wagons to protect shrinking resources, the D.C. suburbs focused internally on rapid population and job growth.

But the times, they are a-changin,’ as Bob Dylan famously put it in song.

The Washington area’s explosive growth, courtesy of an ever-enlarging federal government, has come to a Republican-driven halt. Baltimore’s dependence on state government largesse is no longer a given.

Both regions have much to gain from cross-pollination and partnership, with the University of Maryland showing the way.

Less than four years ago, the College Park and Baltimore campuses launched a program called “MPower.” It produced an explosion of joint discoveries, patents, new companies and job creation.

The latest proposal would put that successful initiative on steroids. The doors would open wide for breakthrough R&D.

In their 2015 article, Perman and Loh noted that College Park engineers and scientists were finally working in close cooperation with teams of “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.”

Such rapid success is attracting intense interest from biotech companies in the I-270 corridor eager to commercialize the “next new thing.”

“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,” the two presidents wrote.

To help make this reality, the strategic partnership bill in Annapolis zeros in on ways to bring together more of UM’s Baltimore and College Park academic innovators now working separately in a wide variety of disciplines.

The measure also contains ongoing funding to identify exciting discoveries, nurture them through early-stage development and aggressively pursue private sector investors.

Many of these spin-off companies will locate within Maryland’s “golden R&D triangle,” providing one of the largest job-creating engines ever seen in the Baltimore-Washington region.

The bill also contains some overdue extra funds for two of the Baltimore area’s other UM campuses – UMBC and Towson University. It’s a significant, long-term investment that will pay off handsomely for students and educators on these large, primarily undergraduate campuses that produce highly skilled graduates well qualified to take on jobs in newly emerging industries.

Working together, the Baltimore and Washington regions of Maryland can make a quantum leap into the highly technical and innovative 21st century economy that is evolving.

The University of Maryland’s new two-campus partnership is an absolutely critical ingredient to make this transformation happen.
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