Through a career spanning three decades and counting, Douglas Liu has managed various operations for life sciences companies in Boston, Chicago, Europe and Montgomery County. He has been involved with numerous organizations in the field, including the Tech Council of Maryland and the Governor’s International Advisory Council.
Such wide experience is a key reason he was recently chosen as board chairman of BioHealth Innovation of Rockville, a public-private nonprofit that helps commercialize innovative ideas in the field and expand those companies. The partnership formed about two years ago after it was among the recommendations of the Montgomery County Biosciences Task Force.
“Doug has been involved in helping evaluate and develop a long-term strategy for growing the bio-health industry in Montgomery County for several years,” said Richard A. Bendis, president and CEO of BioHealth Innovation. “He has served on the working group that recommended the creation of BioHealth Innovation and then its founding board of directors. He brings a global biohealth industry perspective to the Central Maryland region.”
As senior vice president of global operations for biotech Qiagen, Liu has worked both in the operational headquarters in Germany and the North American manufacturing, research and development facility in Germantown. He is the company’s senior executive assigned in North America, managing manufacturing, quality control and assurance, regulatory affairs and worldwide supply chain.
It can be an awesome responsibility, but one Liu readily accepts. His father was a physician; the medical and research environment was familiar and fit him naturally.
“The opportunity to improve the human condition and to help people live better lives is something I really find rewarding,” said Liu, 52.
Growing up in Chicago, Liu earned a science degree in Illinois and later obtained a master of business administration degree at Boston University. He’s headed operations for nucleic acid diagnostics in the U.S. for Bayer Healthcare and worked in strategic planning and consulting at Bayer AG in Leverkusen, Germany. He’s also held positions at Abbott Labs and Chiron Diagnostics.
The regulatory approval process for some medical devices is faster in Europe than the U.S., he said. “There are different expectations for certain products,” Liu said.
Qiagen operates in multiple markets, providing sample and assay technologies for molecular diagnostics, applied testing, academic and pharmaceutical research. Sample technologies are used to collect samples of tissue and fluids, from which DNA and other cellular components are extracted. Assay technologies are used to multiply the small amount of material to make it more ready for interpretation.
The company has more than 4,000 employees worldwide, with 600 in Maryland, mostly in Montgomery County.
The Germantown operation is the North American manufacturing, research and development facility. The Gaithersburg center focuses on developing products for the detection of the human papillomavirus.
The Boston area in particular has done an excellent job of commercializing biotechnology ideas, known in business circles as technology transfer, Liu said. That’s a focus of BioHealth Innovation.
“There are many great discoveries here among the scientific and research community,” Liu said. “The challenge is to create businesses beyond those discoveries, to help the process go from ideas to reality. We haven’t done that as well as some other regions.”
One way to speed the tech transfer process is to help researchers navigate funding mechanisms, he said. Then, there are the basics of building a business, including funding pitches and developing a solid business plan.
In a global industry such as life sciences, free-trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership being discussed by representatives from the U.S. and mostly Southeast Asian countries don’t hurt, Liu said. But trade impediments are not a major concern to Qiagen, he said.
“The regulatory approval process is a bigger issue for us than trade agreements,” Liu said.