Higher education partnerships yield results

The Daily Record 7:11 pm Mon, April 1, 2013

Posted: 7:11 pm Mon, April 1, 2013
By Jay Perman, Wallace Loh and Brit Kirwan The Daily Record

Maryland researchers dream about the possibilities of personalized medicine — using advanced technology to customize treatments for individual patients. Developing the treatments will take a broad mix of engineering, computer science, medical and biological expertise. The first critical step involves assembling this scientific dream team.

One year ago, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, with the guidance of the Maryland General Assembly, committed to building that future by doing more with Maryland’s impressive research arsenal. We have come much further than we dreamed on that wintry March day and have made solid gains for the state.

We are Maryland’s two largest public research universities. Over the past year, we created “MPowering the State” — the framework for a new educational, research and entrepreneurial collaboration between the University of Maryland campuses in College Park and Baltimore.

Our collaborative power, for example, comes from pairing College Park’s excellence in engineering and computer science with Baltimore’s in biomedicine and medical imaging. By mining genetic data, researchers seek to develop a range of personalized treatments, such as selecting the right cancer drugs, which often work with only certain types of patients.

Or consider the possibilities when the most talented bioengineers, imaging experts, neurologists and surgeons partner together. The National Institutes of Health saw the advantages and granted our research team $2 million to develop a tiny surgical robot — able to work its way into tight areas of the brain where a doctor’s hands cannot maneuver.

Each campus brings in about one-half billion dollars annually in research contracts. The NIH is Baltimore’s biggest federal research sponsor, which complements College Park’s contracts with the Department of Defense, National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation and NASA.

The other big push involves entrepreneurship. MPowering the State seeks to maximize the two universities’ significant economic return to the state by combining and fortifying their technology commercialization. The goal is to speed the most promising developments from university labs to productive use. In so doing, we will create new businesses and new jobs in lucrative and growing technology fields.

Even before formally joining forces under MPowering the State, the seed of collaboration had been planted. In fiscal 2012, the two universities jointly created a startup company using university-owned technology. Separately, they launched or assisted in the creation of 13 more. With additional resources and an aggressive effort to recruit entrepreneurial researchers, the collaboration will build on that beginning.

Here is what we have accomplished in one year working together:

  • UM Ventures: The two universities now have a unified licensing and patenting process. Experts “mine” research developments for the most promising work to make sure they proceed into the development pipeline.
  • UM Research and Innovation Seed Program: The seed grant program helps researchers prove the value of their ideas to potential investors. It has already resulted in $6 million in joint research awards.
  • Center for Health-Related Informatics and Bioimaging: This will be home base for enterprising research teams to develop technologies that promise practical benefits to Maryland citizens.
  • Collaborative School of Public Health: College Park’s School of Public Health complements quite well Baltimore’s School of Medicine Department of Epidemiology and Public Health. The new collaborative school combines strengths such as epidemiology with outreach to underserved medical communities. Students will benefit from joint curricula in the near future, and the state will gain more and better trained public health professionals.
  • Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation: Pharmaceutical experts in Baltimore and bioengineers in College Park are partnering with the Food and Drug Administration to improve and speed the regulatory process for approving new medications and medical devices. Joint master’s degree and certificate programs will allow us to provide educational offerings to the regulatory agencies in Maryland’s Washington suburbs.
  • Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research: MPowering the State is ramping up operations at this facility in Montgomery County’s biotech corridor. Improved research collaboration with the private sector will better serve the expanding economic base of biosciences and technology in Maryland and the nation.
  • Institute for a Healthiest Maryland: Several projects are designed to improve the health of Maryland citizens, including reducing exposure to second-hand smoke in low-income housing, and fighting childhood obesity.

Our new path together will produce opportunities for collaboration and ease their launch. In Year 2, collaboration will simply be the way we do business — a natural bonding that yields the most robust results for our students and citizens. It will unleash the power of Maryland’s dream team.

Jay Perman is president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore; Wallace Loh is president of the University of Maryland, College Park; Brit Kirwan is chancellor of the University System of Maryland.