Selected Speeches

UMB Operating Budget Testimony

Feb. 21, 2019
UMB Operating Budget Testimony

Sen. Ferguson, I thank you and the subcommittee—along with your Senate colleagues—for your support of UMB. I thank the governor for his belief in our mission. I thank Sara Baker for her typically flawless analysis. 

And I’m deeply indebted to the entire General Assembly for the $4M appropriated last session to expand our UMB Community Engagement Center in Southwest Baltimore. We’ve purchased a 20,000-square-foot historic building nearby in which to move the center. We’re excited to begin renovations soon, and our neighbors are excited about the expanded programming this new building makes possible.

We’ve been overwhelmed by the community’s response to the center and thrilled that this purchase means we’ll be able to accommodate the thousands of neighbors who use the center and all the activities we’re planning there together.


We’ve had a fantastic year at UMB. And I want to call your attention to one aspect of our success. On p. 8 of your testimony document, you’ll see the record-breaking year we had in extramural funding—$667 million in grants and contracts—money that supports our research, training and service activities. That’s a 20 percent jump over FY17, and it’s the highest total ever recorded by a USM institution.

The numbers reflect the vital services we provide, locally and globally—a $30 million grant from the U.S. Education Department to expand wraparound supports to children & families in one of Baltimore’s highest-need neighborhoods; a $100 million PEPFAR grant to study HIV programs in Nigeria—the largest population-based survey ever conducted in a single country.

But the lion’s share of that money—about two-thirds—reflects our research enterprise, and I do want to point out that the numbers appearing on the next page of your testimony booklet—p. 9—are just as important as those on p. 8.


Those two pages face each other for a reason. Because our story isn’t just about grants and contracts, or research. It’s about how we put that research to work, right here in Maryland. Last year, UMB had its most successful commercialization year ever.

We licensed 43 of our technologies to different companies—including eight new startups we launched. In just one year, three of our startups were acquired by global companies—but all three are actually staying right here in Maryland.

For instance, Harpoon Medical, a UMB device company, was acquired by Edwards Lifesciences for $100 million—plus another $150 million if certain milestones are met. The Harpoon device allows heart-valve repair with just a tiny incision. It cuts surgery and recovery times by two-thirds. And Edwards has retained Harpoon’s operations in Baltimore City, a move that’s paying off for the state, as Harpoon’s leaders have already launched two new startups here in Maryland—another medical device company, and a stem cell company supported by the MD Stem Cell Fund.

Another of our companies, Baltimore-based SilcsBio, co-founded by Dr. Alex MacKerell in our School of Pharmacy, earned a patent for its software last year. The company’s computer-aided drug design helps pharmaceutical firms accelerate their drug development. With this patent validation—nearly a decade in the making—the company is setting its sights on the biggest players in the pharma market.

Another of our success stories got a lot of attention this year. Transplant surgeon Joseph Scalea in our School of Medicine has long been frustrated by the amount of time it takes to get a healthy organ from donor to patient. Twenty percent of kidneys donated in the U.S. are thrown out every year because they can’t get to the recipient fast enough. Dr. Scalea began exploring drones as a way to expedite the trip.

UMB provided seed funding and support for a biosensor he developed to monitor the organ in flight, providing real-time data on its temperature, pressure, and location. With his team—including Aerospace Engineering colleagues in College Park—Dr. Scalea conducted 14 test flights with a human kidney. And, after hours in the air, the kidney showed no signs of damage. We’re excited to keep this research going and remove one of the biggest obstacles we have to successful transplantation.


We know the worst thing we could do is let life-saving technologies like these languish in a lab. Homegrown ventures and homegrown IP need targeted funding and targeted support. That’s why the Center for Maryland Advanced Ventures—established by the state thru the 2016 Strategic Partnership Act and administered by UMB—is so vitally important.

CMAV provides funding for leadership positions within USM’s MD Momentum Fund. And through that fund, we’ve invested more than $1 million in four early-stage USM companies—money that’s helped attract more than $5 million from other investors. Next Step Robotics is one of those companies. It’s a UMB startup working on a personalized robotic therapy to relieve foot drop in stroke patients, a condition that exacerbates fall risk, because it prevents patients from lifting their toes when walking.

Another CMAV program, The Baltimore Fund, incentivizes companies to locate or expand in the city. So far, we’ve provided funding or other commercialization support to 13 Baltimore companies—like Breethe, a UMB startup developing the world’s first portable artificial lung. The company has raised $3 million in capital, expanded its Baltimore facility, and increased its staff to 17 employees. Altogether, the Baltimore Fund has helped create or retain more than 200 city jobs.

Through CMAV’s Life Sciences IP Fund, we’ve provided $600,000 to nine early-stage USM technologies, including a UMB therapeutic designed to treat inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, without the common side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Through state and UMB programs, we’re funneling more than $2 million each year into the commercialization of UMB technologies alone. We’ve contributed $1.5 million to UMB startups, and we’re accelerating our equity investments to grow these companies faster. We’re serious about bringing our discoveries to market, where they can improve people’s health and fuel Maryland’s innovation economy.


I want to pivot briefly to another of UMB’s mission-critical areas: training Maryland’s professional workforce. The Workforce Development Initiative—providing $2.6 million to UMB—is key to advancing two of Maryland’s critical workforce priorities.

The first is training more primary care providers to serve Marylanders, esp. in high shortage areas. Through our Statewide Physician Assistant Network, we’re standardizing the physician assistant curriculum, accreditation, admissions, and oversight to allow PA programs across the state to increase their enrollment.

We’re launching a PhD program in the fall, enrolling 20 clinicians a year who can train the next generation of physician assistants. And we’re planning to configure several clinical sites for PA education on the Eastern Shore—where the need for primary care providers is especially acute. By standardizing physician assistant education and licensure, and developing the faculty we need to staff new & expanded programs, we’ll increase our capacity to train PAs, reduce our backlog of applicants, and better serve Maryland citizens, who urgently need access to providers. At UMB alone, we expect to add 20 students to our annual PA cohort once this network is fully in place.

The second high-priority area supported by the Workforce Development Initiative is training social workers to treat substance use disorders so we can combat Maryland’s addiction crisis. Right now, we have a huge gap between the number of people needing treatment and the number of professionals who can provide it. The problem isn’t just an under-trained and unprepared workforce—it’s a workforce that’s aging out of the job market.

A substance use disorder internship program—enrolling 20 social work students each of the next three years—would recruit younger professionals into addiction treatment and place them where they’re needed most: clinics, ERs, residential treatment centers, recovery houses, shelters.

By replicating this UMB model in other USM social work programs, we’d have a much better shot at fighting an addiction epidemic that’s devastating families and communities—and costing us a generation of Marylanders.

Training MD’s professional workforce—fueling its economy—takes a deep commitment to our core mission and a passion for hard work. But it also takes resources. So, in closing, I ask that you reject the DLS recommendation to reduce the System’s general fund appropriation by $10 million. Thank you for your time and your support.


Back to Selected Speeches