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Baltimore could become "Beehive" of Biotech and Science Research

Excerpted from an Interview with Dr. Perman published in the July 19, 2010 Daily Record
By Danny Jacobs

[Dr. Jay] Perman, who served as the University of Maryland School of Medicine's chief of pediatrics from 1999 until 2004, returned to Baltimore after six years as dean at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. In an hour-long interview with reporters and editors at The Daily Record last week, he described University of Maryland as “much for mature” compared to what he remembers from six years ago. If the university grew up in his absence, Perman wants his presidency to be about moving it -- and it turn the surrounding community -- forward.

“From soup to nuts, from our law school to our social work school to our health science schools, I look at what is done in terms of scholarship, in terms of research,” he said. “I look at it as improving the human condition.”

Such goals require resources, and Perman said he plans to spend a “good deal of time” fundraising despite the sputtering economy.

“The times are awkward for that, there's no question. People's portfolios have been injured. I don't want to use that as an excuse,” he said. “I could tuck my tail in, but then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

One of his priorities is adding at least a third building to the [University of Maryland] BioPark research complex. A space shortage will soon restrict research of investigators and prevent the addition of new ones. Perman said the university's problem could become the state's.

“Maryland needs to be a center for the life sciences and biotechnology,” he said. “We should be able to do that very well, whether it's in Montgomery county or what we're doing in Baltimore.”

Baltimore, he continued, could become a “beehive” of biotech and science research like Boston and the San Francisco Bay area.

“We ought to be attracting companies who want to work with our scientists, who want to take our science and get it to the market,” he said. “That's what we're supposed to be doing. We're supposed to be making the world better.”

Perman emphasized that “we” includes The Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland's competitor for much of that research money and talent. Perman has joined the Greater Baltimore Committee and wants to work with the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore to figure out what there is not more collaboration. But Perman has not contacted Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels and said Daniels has not contacted him.

“What we need to do is strategize together and project the image that Baltimore is a great place for life science,” he said. “Whether it's our biopark or Hopkins bio-park, Baltimore is a crucible for startups, for entrepreneurial activity, for translation of research.”

His idea would not be the first time he has brought the institutions together.

Perman's first stay in Baltimore began in 1984 when he became director of pediatric gastroenterology at Hopkins' medical school. The school on the west side of town was rarely mentioned, he said, but Perman soon noticed Maryland did not have pediatric gastroenterologists at its medical school. So he created a joint program after speaking with pediatrics chairs and deans at both schools.

“It was pretty much unheard of, but they let me do it,” he said. “It worked out very well and became a bit of a model.”

Perman also said he believes it led to his becoming pediatrics chairman at Maryland. He had left Hopkins in 1996 to become pediatrics chair at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. Maryland came calling three years later.

“The reason that happened was because I was a known quantity at the University of Maryland, and hopefully a trusted quantity,” he said.