Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

With new director, MdBio to head in new direction

Zakour, a 23-year veteran of biotechs, aims to shift focus to emerging firms

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Richard A. Zakour is set to take charge of MdBio on Sept. 4 with an eye toward sweetening membership benefits for small, emerging bioscience companies.

The Tech Council of Maryland announced this month that Zakour, a 23-year veteran of bioscience industries, would become executive director of both its MdBio division and charitable MdBio Foundation. The two entities were created when the trade association MdBio Inc. in Frederick merged with the council in February.

‘‘I would like to find some ways to bring in as many members into the fold as possible, and to entice companies by providing an opportunity to become members on a trial basis,” said Zakour, who is also a board member of the MdBio Foundation and the Tech Council.

MdBio’s recent focus has been on larger members, but many smaller companies with tight budgets ‘‘have not been able to realize the benefits of membership,” he said.

Zakour said that emerging bioscience companies will continue to benefit from MdBio’s Product Development Accelerator program, he said.

In the past few years, the program has provided about $4 million to about 30 companies to help them finish developing a product or launch a service, said James K. Leslie, chairman of the MdBio Foundation.

In exchange, MdBio has received royalties and some equity in the companies. But the Tech Council is ‘‘moving away from the equity” part, Zakour said. ‘‘This is not like angel or venture funding.”

The organization will continue to use royalties, however, to fund future projects, he said.

Before joining MdBio, Zakour was general manager for Fisher BioSciences of Rockville, formerly McKesson BioServices. He was responsible for a 300-employee, $55 million business unit, increasing revenues 72 percent in three years, he stated in a report.

From 1991 to 1996, Zakour was vice president and general manager of biomedical services for DynCorp of Rockville, now part of Computer Sciences Corp., where he managed an $8 million business unit. He also held previous positions with Cambridge Biotech Corp. of Rockville, Allied Signal Inc. of Morristown, N.J., the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at Research Triangle Park, N.C., and the University of Washington, Seattle, where he conducted postdoctoral studies in DNA replication and repair. He holds a doctorate and master’s in biology from Rice University, and a master’s and bachelor’s in biology from the University of Notre Dame.

Leslie called Zakour a good fit for MdBio.

‘‘Ric’s appointment is very positive for both MdBio and the MdBio Foundation,” Leslie said. ‘‘He is well-known in the community and is a respected business manager and a strong support of the [council] and both pieces of MdBio.”

Focus on BIO conference and mobile laboratory

As he sets up his office at the Tech Council’s new headquarters at 9713 Key West Ave. in Rockville, Zakour’s first priorities will be the third annual Mid-Atlantic BIO Conference in Bethesda, the MdBio mobile classroom and presenting a new strategic plan to his board.

The theme of regional investment strategies at last year’s Mid-Atlantic Bio in Washington, D.C., will continue as the meeting rotates to Maryland in October and to Virginia next year, he said.

Last year’s conference drew more than 800 investors, businesspeople and academic leaders from Maryland, Virginia and the District, who focused on collaborating regionally rather than to push divisive provincial interests.

‘‘This year we are trying to put together a broad base appeal,” Zakour said.

He also will continue to focus on the MdBioLab, directed by Mary Stapleton. The 5-year-old traveling lab is designed to enhance bioscience curricula for students and teachers during weeklong stays at high schools, handling up to 32 students at once. It has visited every school district in Maryland, providing instruction to more than 40,000 students, Zakour said.

Zakour’s position is parallel to that of Rick Harris, who was recently named executive director of the council’s Tech Alliance, responsible for technology companies and issues.

Both Harris and Zakour report to Julie Coons, president and CEO of the 500-plus-member Tech Council.

‘‘The association wanted to strengthen each division,” Harris said. ‘‘We did not want just one person for both areas.”

Coons has served as executive director of both MdBio entities since the resignation of longtime MdBio president C. Robert Eaton in March.

The MdBio foundation and the Tech Council of Maryland Foundation receive member donations and income from special events ‘‘where all of the funds will be earmarked for the foundation,” Harris said. Neither he nor Zakour disclosed how much the foundations have received or disbursed.

The council also recently named Edward M. Rudnic, CEO of MiddleBrook Pharmaceuticals of Germantown, board chairman.

Rudnic also said he wants to work on boosting membership, improving members’ participation and making the group more relevant to companies across Maryland. The biotech side has many members from across the state, but other sectors are concentrated in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, he said.

‘‘We have to do a better job of getting out there and letting people know what we have to offer,” Rudnic said.

This report originally appeared in The Business Gazette.