The life sciences community presented a vision this week in which the Washington, DC region becomes a top 3 biotech hub by 2023. What role will economic development incentives play in achieving this status?

Industry, academic, nonprofit, investment and government partners participated in the Regional Biotech Forum: Growing Our Ecosystem, a program spearheaded by BioHealth Innovation, AstraZeneca, MedImmune and the Tech Council of Maryland and supported by BioMaryland, Virginia Bio, Montgomery County, MD among others.

Our takeaway is that while incentives can’t create the essential elements of a successful biotech cluster, they do play an important role in facilitating company formation and expansion in the ecosystem.

Essential Cluster Elements

There are four things you need to make a cluster thrive: risk capital, great location, great management, great science – Joel Marcus, Alexandria Real Estate. (WSJ Venture Capital Dispatch, 3/30/15)

No argument there. In addition to these factors, industry participants at the Regional Biotech Forum also talked quite a bit about:
Top talent with the right skills, values and experience, linked through a strong networked community

Collaboration and strategic partnerships among industry, academia and federal institutions – which requires both broad cultural change and high quality programmatic initiatives to identify and develop commercial opportunities. Just a few examples include the BioHealth Innovation Entrepreneur-in-Residence program; the programs of the Office of Translational Alliances and Coordination of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; and the Virginia Biosciences Health Research Corporation funds.

A permeable research ecosystem is key to sustainable innovation – Pascal Soriot, CEO, Astra Zeneca


Those factors are necessary to be a leading biotech hub, but they may not be sufficient to generate a thriving set of companies to propel economic growth in that hub. That’s where incentives come in. Several categories of economic development incentives are helpful to biotech and life sciences companies ranging from start-ups to well-established industry leaders.

  • Investments in assets that can be used by both academia and industry, such as the UMBC High Performance Computing Facility
  • Free, inexpensive or discounted land and facilities. This may include subsidized lab space, incubator or accelerator facilities, or even land for facilities.

In the case of United Therapeutics, Rothblatt said her company received some help from the government with its manufacturing property. That’s a smart form of economic investment, she said.  — Martine Rothblatt, United Therapeutics quoted in Washington Business Journal

For more information, check out these links to several biotech incentive and funding programs in Maryland and Virginia: