The Vaccine Hunt And Our Regional Economy
We're talking about the Baltimore region’s role in the race to develop and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine with Tom Sadowski, Vice Chancellor for Economic Development for the University System of Maryland, and Dr. Bruce Jarrell, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
The podcast is produced by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, the council of local governments serving central Maryland, with assistance from WYPR.
Tom Hall: Welcome to The Chesapeake Connect Podcast, I'm Tom Hall. Chesapeake Connect is an annual learning trip that brings together leaders from around Baltimore to explore best practices and programs in a peer region organized by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. That's the council of governments serving greater Baltimore. The council has organized trips to Cleveland, New Orleans and Nashville in recent years. Today on the Chesapeake Connect podcast, we're talking about the role of the Baltimore region and especially our universities in the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine. We're also talking about vaccine development in general and the effect that it has on our regional economy. I'm joined by Tom Sadowski. He's the vice chancellor for economic development for the University System of Maryland. He was appointed by Chancellor Emeritus Robert L. Caret in 2016, the first person to serve in this role. Tom Sadowsky is Governor Hogan's appointee to the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, and he participated in the 2017 and the 2019 Chesapeake Connect programs. Tom Sadowsky, welcome to The Chesapeake Connect Podcast.
Tom Sadowski: Thank you, Tom. Pleasure to be here.
Tom Hall: And we are also joined by Dr. Bruce Jarrell. He's the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Before his appointment as president, Dr. Jarrell served as chief academic and research officer, senior vice president, executive vice president and the dean of the graduate school leadership from University of Maryland. Baltimore participated in the 2018 and 2019 Chesapeake Connect programs. Dr. Jarrell. Welcome to you as well.
Dr. Bruce Jarrell: Thank you, Tom. It is my pleasure to be here. And I look forward to the conversation.
Tom Hall: Well, we do, too. And let's jump right in with you, Dr. Jarrell. You've guided the university's efforts to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic since March of 2020 when it began to take hold in the United States. Take us back to the early days of the pandemic. What were your immediate concerns for the university and how did you address them at that time?
Dr. Bruce Jarrell: Well, it's it's not a simple answer because there were multiple things hitting on me at the same time, but the most vivid memory that I have is that I got sent a text from a colleague who's an ICU person in Italy, and I began reading what he was saying on the text about how there were people lined up in the halls that COVID had been overwhelming their medical resources there and that you all should be aware of this and look out because it's coming. And when I first read it, I said, is this a believable text or is somebody sending me a fake text to get a response out of me? The next morning, I was able to confirm that, in fact, this was very much true. And seeing what had happened in Italy very much affected my responses in the sense that, first of all, this was serious. Don't be kidding yourself. Second of all, that UMB has a big community, a big chunk of this community will be taking care of this. So I need to think about them. And then a big chunk of our community, particularly the faculty, staff and students who do not give clinical care, will have to change the way we function as a university. So that one text got my antenna up. And I think it helped me to respond to it in a very rapid way to act responsibly because this was a serious thing. So those are those are my immediate memories.
Tom Hall: And Tom Sadowski, same question to you. I mean, in your role as Vice Chancellor for Economic Development at the University System of Maryland when the pandemic started, what were your priorities at that time?
Tom Sadowski: Priorities at that time were really the relationships that we helped to nurture and maintain and not only with our research partners, but with a lot of the startups that we are responsible for helping nurture the growth and retention of it, first and foremost, was to make sure a lot of those partners were aware of all the support that was going to be available to them to keep them going and to sustain the relationships, whether it research or otherwise, that were ongoing, you know, whether it was from the state of Maryland or from the federal government to try to be a liaison to those support agencies to make sure those business relationships that we've worked so hard to cultivate in the community could be sustained. And then we kind of transitioned to a point where, you know, we really want to make sure our experts and our key people were engaged in the fight. So we work to create opportunities for our students and faculty to engage in a way where we offered seed grants and we sponsored challenges to help come up with ways and innovative solutions to share public health information, spread awareness for treatment and testing resources that might be available in the community. We also want to spread awareness of detection capabilities where we can actually identify COVID that may be present in schools or research facilities, public spaces or even in the workplace. So really trying to bring to bear all that that system had to offer in the fight against COVID. That was the main thing. How do we get that started? How do we inspire that kind of action and really do it to the greatest effect possible? And we had a really terrific response from the business community in support of those efforts. So those were our main activities at the beginning and midpoints through the pandemic.
Tom Hall: Yeah. And Dr. Jarrell, as Tom Sadowski makes clear, the fight against COVID-19 took place on many different fronts. It's not all just about vaccines, for example, but in your role, in addition to the challenges that are, you know, multiple even without a pandemic. But you have the challenge of running a major university during a pandemic, but you also have oversight over one of the largest research institutions in the country. So what has the University of Maryland, Baltimore's role been in fighting coronavirus?
Bruce Jarrell: Well, first would be a preface of that comment, that the first thing we did was to make sure that all of our people were as safe as we could make them while still being able to perform important parts of their job. And so we kind of had a concern about our clinicians because they were going to be on the front lines. But then we had this big research program, as you were talking about. And when you think of research, you shouldn't just think of test tubes in a lab. You should take all the way up to translating that to potentially a useful intervention, a medical vaccine or something else, a medication all the way up to clinical trials, actually putting whatever the test element is and to a human and make sure that it's working as we think it should. And so we have a big apparatus here and perhaps people don't always appreciate just how broad the apparatus is and it will be. So we did have a basic science coronavirus laboratory. It functions in what's called a biosafety lab three, which means the level of security in that lab is quite high security so that the people there don't get infected, such that it doesn't leak out or whatever. And so we have a very sophisticated program. And we were one of the first labs to actually receive some of the samples from China and begin to work on those in the lab to understand them. But the other component that's really quite large at UMB is our virology. And we have two virology programs. One is, is the Institute for Human Virology more focused on HIV. And the second is the Center for Vaccine Development. The CVD, we call it, has been here for well over 40 years and has been committed to vaccine development and testing in the field during that period of time. So at any one time and CBD, you have everything from the basic discovery of whether we could make a vaccine for a particular organism up to how do we get that into a form that's safe to test, to testing in animals and testing it in humans and then testing it in very large field trials, for example, in other countries outside the US. And so there's a lot of sophistication in doing the wide range of vaccinology. You would call that in our labs. And so we already had world experts on some of these viruses. And a number of our people have been very involved at a state and national level to advise the federal government to advise Governor Hogan and others. So we've been very involved in it. And that's just the research part that doesn't get to the other parts.
Tom Hall: Yeah, and there are many other parts, to be sure. And so, Tom Sadowski, as Dr Jarrell’s made clear, you know, 40 years this is decades prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Center for Vaccine Development at UMB has been doing important work. And the work that Maryland's universities have taken on has always been a major economic driver for the state of Maryland as well. Can you put this work into some kind of economic context for us? I mean, what kind of jobs does this work bring to the region? What does it mean for the people and employees and employers in our region?
Tom Sadowski: Absolutely. Thanks for that question. I mean, it's a very proud story that we like to tell much due to the work that Bruce is doing there at University of Maryland, Baltimore and the collaboration's and the partnership that they've engaged in with our flagship, the College Park. You know, the system is now ranked fourth in the country amongst public research institutions for the work that it does. And that's significant when you look at the things that they're engaged in on a day to day basis annually, while we conduct more than one point five billion in sponsored R&D, which generates another two billion in economic activity throughout the state of Maryland, that's more than eleven thousand five hundred jobs. More than half of those are in the Baltimore region. And those jobs pay significant salaries, well over six figures. It's a billion dollars in wages and over forty million dollars per year in revenue back to the state of Maryland. So that's a significant contribution to the state's economy year on and year out. So for the Baltimore area, it's made a tremendous impact. Again, our involvement in this work is, well, you know, well recognized and they've created a research park community on the West Side in their BioPark that houses new startups and they're developing new technologies, helping to attract venture capital investment and major corporate investment in some of those startups. And those companies have set up shop there in Baltimore overall. That just makes a significant contribution to the state's economy. The Milken Institute, for instance, in their annual review of state economies in places, Maryland is number one in the development of science and technology workforce, and number two in terms of research and development inputs. So you can be unlucky there in other big parts of that system, research enterprise, and it's helping to drive the state's economy, none of that on an annual basis into the foreseeable future.
Tom Hall: And as Dr. Freeman Hrabowski of UMBC, for example, makes clear every time he's given the opportunity, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett who was very involved in the development of the Moderna COVID vaccine, is a unique graduate. He's very proud of that as well. He should be. Dr. Jarrell, vaccine research, as you mentioned, is certainly nothing new at UMB. You've got decades of experience. Give us a sense of the kind of work that was happening, you know, up to this point, I mean, and how it has informed moving forward to find solutions to the COVID problem.
Dr. Bruce Jarrell: Well, the virology program, the CVD really started with Dr. Mike Levine, who traveled particularly to Chile and Mali in Africa to understand some of the epidemics that they were having across a wide variety of diseases, including things like cholera, then brought those findings back to be able to study them and to understand the basic ways that these organisms were spreading. But to give you a good example, this more recent, the Ebola virus, we were intimately involved with the WHO in understanding that. And the first candidate for vaccine for Ebola, part of the studies were actually done here in Baltimore and in our BioPark to be able to understand about the vaccine that was set up for that. And you know that there were vaccine, that there were viruses that followed, that Zica we were, again, very involved with. So basically, wherever there's an outbreak of a virus, typically our CVD is involved. And I would add so is our Institute for Human Virology involved. So we keep a high level of interaction with the viral community, the virology community, to understand what's going on and see how we can channel resources that we have here, um, be particularly the School of Medicine to attack these problems.
Tom Hall: And Tom Sadowski, you know, you mentioned the high rankings that so many institutions here in our state enjoy when it comes to this kind of research. Looking long term, how do you see vaccine research in particular fitting into the long term plans for the university system?
Tom Sadowski: Well, I mean, the true value of our research and our work in this area is the overall benefit to the human condition, as our chancellor department likes to point out frequently, but specifically to our region. You know, the benefits are going to come in the form of more government investment and support of our research enterprise, the sustained attraction of the best and brightest researchers, faculty and students to the region because of the great work and transformational work that goes on here, the continued attraction of venture capital investment in our in the startups that we create and the new job creation that results from those new ventures being put into the marketplace and into our communities and the community impact is really something that's important over time because we're already seeing it as as Bruce and I had mentioned, on the West Side of Baltimore. But the amount of increased public and nonprofit investment in the communities that surround these facilities, our institutions, these are the projects that housed all this activity, and it's already helping to create a formidable life science and bio community response. And that's just poised for exponential growth. Baltimore in particular, as we mentioned, the West Side is a thriving community now where there are companies that are dedicated to the development of medical devices, therapeutics and bioproduction related technologies, and these startups are just getting tremendous support from the private sector and the corporate community. So we expect that work to continue and it's going to drive a rise in economic activity and job creation, not just in Baltimore, but throughout the region in the state. So this whole unfortunate pandemic, you know, we found the opportunity amidst the challenge and to really leverage the great work that we're doing, I think for maximum benefit to the community. And as I had said at the opening to the human condition
Tom Hall: And Dr. Jarell, we are certainly by no means on the other side of COVID yet as we speak here in the spring of 2021. But it does seem like we are making leaps and bounds of progress. We're getting more and more people vaccinated. And, you know, the shift is away from a pandemic that we think is going to be completely debilitating, both as a public health measure as well as an economic measure. But your university is health and public service focused. What do you see as UMB's role going forward when we truly are in a post pandemic world?
Dr. Bruce Jarrell: Thank you, Tom. Well, I think the first assumption is we have to get in a post pandemic world and I think all of the signs have been very positive. And I'm pleased to see some advances in terms of fewer restrictions, etc. But I'll still be the circumspect physician and say to you that this virus has fooled us over and over again. And so in part, I think we still have to have high vigilance. We can lower our restrictions, but we need to watch this very closely. And if there's any indication it's going in the wrong direction to react in a responsible manner in terms of UMB, I think there's a couple of things that you'll see happen relative to UMB. One is we will continue and undoubtedly expand our basic research in virology, particularly coronavirus, but not limited to coronavirus. That's what had happened to be this time. Dr. Kathy Neuzil and CVD has a very large federal grant looking at influenza, and I think you'll continue to be wary of influenza because influenza did this one hundred years ago, practically wiped out our population. It didn't wipe it out, but it had a huge impact on it. So I think we'll continue to do the basic science, but we'll also continue to be very involved in the translation of this science into practical issues. For example, many times people have said to me, why do you have programs in Africa? Aren't there enough sick people or problems here in Baltimore to deal with? And the answer is in part because we care about the people in Africa as well, but also because that's where you see these new emerging infections, not just Africa, but certainly in Africa. And that gives us a heads up as to what might be next and to focus our attention on that. The one other thing I think that has to come into the vocabulary is a term called preparedness. I won't say we weren't prepared for this pandemic, but we certainly weren't prepared for the extensiveness and the scope, the effect that it had on everybody. And one of the things that we've learned is that having a powerful research university allows you to pivot the research parts of the university to begin to address things of immediate public need. And in fact, we have done that on several occasions during COVID of taking up a basic science program and putting it in the position of serving the public. So that's a special kind of skill to be able to do that. And we need to make sure that we keep those kinds of skills active at UMB.
Tom Hall: Yeah. And Tom Sadowski, back to the economic dimension of the pandemic. It certainly had an uneven impact on various segments in the economy. You mentioned what's going on in the West Side of Baltimore in terms of medical research and biotech, et cetera. And so those kinds of industries are thriving. But if you look at the hospitality industry, the restaurant industry, hotels, they have certainly been hit in a very serious way. So anchor institutions like public universities have economic ties with just about every sector of the economy. What role can these anchor institutions like public universities play in an economic recovery?
Tom Sadowski: Well, I think a lot of it goes to what Bruce had just mentioned. It's setting ourselves up to be prepared to pivot when needed. In April of 2020, much due to Bruce's leadership and the chancellor there, Darryll Pines of the University of Maryland College Park, and Dr. Hrabowski at UMBC that they kind of guided efforts to create a COVID research and innovation task force. And through that task force that I'm pleased to serve on, along with Dr. Laurie E. Locascio, who's vice president of research for both UMB and College Park. We we are we brought together our colleagues from within the system to discuss the various areas of need and expertise and connect those with interests and needs in the greater business community and civic community so that we've established relationships where we're having an ongoing dialogue about the needs in the communities, what we're seeing what the opportunities are to take advantage of. But job one for the system, I didn't get a chance to cover this, but work the economic or the workforce engine of the state of Maryland. We graduate over 40,000 professionals every year, 12,000 in the area of STEM science, technology, engineering and math. And the vast majority stay in Maryland to pursue their careers. So first of all, we have to make sure we continue to do that work and that we are preparing not only our students, but working with the public schools, the K through 12 system and the community colleges to make sure our future generations and our adult learners are getting the skills they need to participate in this economic recovery. We're working with industry to understand the jobs that are becoming available, what the skills are required to be successful in accessing these opportunities, and we're delivering on the programming necessary to make sure those skills are in place. We want to make sure as many people as possible can participate in the economic recovery, and sometimes that means jobs that don't require college degrees. So what are those skills necessary that we can help our community college partners and our K through 12 partners? How can we help provide those skills so that people can get those jobs, can participate in the economy and the jobs that are being created in the post pandemic world? And oftentimes those jobs are providing family supporting income and livelihoods that can help sustain a four year degree experience. So a lot of times, a lot of the work that we're doing with industry and our education partners, we're not only helping get people to work and get them the skills they need to participate in this post pandemic era. But hopefully we're setting them up with an opportunity to pursue a career and that enables them to get a four year degree and master's or maybe even a Ph.D. if desired. But, you know, it's really about making sure that the communities that have been hardest hit, that they have access to the opportunities that exist today post pandemic. So that means working together again with all of our education partners and industry partners to make sure we're helping folks get the skills necessary to participate in this economy.
Tom Hall: It's such an important point that the tree of this economic recovery has to grow high and wide. It really does have to include everybody. And Dr. Jero, you mentioned the importance of preparedness and that lesson learned in terms of this pandemic. Talk a little bit more about that. What do you think we have learned dealing with this particular coronavirus that will be, you know, vital in preparing for the next pandemic?
Dr. Bruce Jarrell: Well, it's funny you ask that question, Tom, because the first and the biggest thing we've learned is that the newly evolved, although it's not that new, it's at least a decade old. The MRSA vaccine constructs have been tremendously useful in developing a vaccine rapidly and will continue to be a useful method for evolving the vaccine as the virus evolves, et cetera. So one thing we've learned is, is basic research and understanding how to develop things like vaccines have been tremendously valuable and in cutting off valuable time off the development of a particular vaccine. And and you mentioned Dr. Corbitt from Dr. Hrabowski's UMBC, and she played a major role in this MRNA vaccine construct. So we've learned that a second thing we've learned is what I'm going to call unified command. So one of the first things that happened between you and me and the medical center UMMC was that we developed a single person command structure for both the university and the medical center. Now think about that for a minute. We took a not for profit corporation, UMMC, and basically had it work hand in glove with a state university, a state entity, so to speak, and so that all of our policies, procedures, actions, etc., although they weren't identical, they were harmonized. We were speaking with a single voice. It was like a military precision kind of operation. So a second thing we've learned is the power of partnership here, that you can really get potent partnerships that make you operate much better than you could have as separate entities. And by the way, that happened not just with UMMC and UMB, but there was also a partnership with Hopkins relative to setting up the convention center and many other such opportunities. So a second thing we've learned is partnerships are really important, particularly to get started early. But the third thing that I think we've learned, and this does go directly to a prevention pandemic preparedness as well, is that when you have a half a billion dollar a year operation in basic research, there's a lot of special capability there. And among those capabilities starting off for us was the capability to actually do the PCR testing for COVID. And you'll recall a time back in March or April when nobody had a test for that. And yet we were able to take a basic science lab. And when I say we take they volunteered. They thought this was critical and turned it in the direction with all of the rules and regulations that we had to undertake and follow to be able to test a wide group of the population. So that program went from almost zero to being able to do a max of thirteen or fourteen thousand tests a day, and in fact we did, if that number were over eight hundred thousand PCR tests for covid today, that would have been very difficult to start from scratch without such basic science capabilities sitting there. So part of pandemic preparedness also means making sure you understand your research capabilities and how that could be turned into a public health direction.
Tom Hall: Yeah, and it's not just the basic science, of course, but as you say, this willingness to collaborate, that's been, I think, one of the most inspirational dimensions of this pandemic. We're seeing, you know, collaboration literally from researchers and some great, great minds around the world when it comes to collaborating. Of course, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council sponsors these trips to places like Cleveland and Nashville. And Tom Sadowski, you took both of those trips. Talk about that experience. You know, you were there as part of a group from Baltimore that went to these peer cities to see what they were doing. What stands out to you about the takeaways that you came back with from those trips?
Tom Sadowski: Those trips are terrific. They're always a great opportunity to network amongst the group from Baltimore that goes. But we always learn so much, you know, the importance of planning, collaboration among stakeholders, the power of partnership, as we've discussed, and the need for community cohesion, you know, getting the community together behind the key priorities of any region, the things that they're challenged with, the opportunities that they see often. However, the most important lesson that we derive from these trips, it's an appreciation for the tremendous assets that we already have here at home, in the Baltimore area and the possibilities that are within our reach if we work together. I mean, Bruce alluded to it with the partnership discussion day, you know, week one, day one. After the pandemic really hit stride, we started convening almost daily leadership calls in sharing information and challenges that we were facing and that kind of collaborative sharing best practices. And Intel was crucial in responding. And I think that. It really, I think, set us up as a system to help inspire that kind of collaboration in the broader community, and I think as we go on future trips, you know, that'll be an example that we can share with other other cities, other regions and how we work together to respond to this challenging, most challenging of times.
Tom Hall: And Dr. Jarrel, obviously a scientist, a physician like yourself, you have a network of colleagues from literally around the world. You mentioned your colleague from Italy who gave you an early alert to the seriousness of this pandemic. And folks in your profession often go to conferences and they publish in journals and share their work widely. It's interesting that a university would be part of these Chesapeake Connect trips. Unbe sent senior leadership leadership on two of the Chesapeake Connect trips. You have your relationship with Baltimore, but what do you think you learned as a as an institution and anchor institution here in Baltimore from going on these trips to different cities?
Dr. Bruce Jarrell: While some of the responses will be what Tom already mentioned. But I would say we have a thirst for best practices and wherever we can find best practices, particularly as an anchor institution, which is a very difficult topic, to make sure you're being as excellent as you can. So anything we can learn in that way helps us help our own university, help our city of Baltimore and certainly our West Baltimore community. So we very much want to look at that. But the other thing I think that comes out and things like that is, is how you encourage innovation, entrepreneurism, small business development, et cetera, and the community. And when we first started our BioPark before we did that, I remember that Jim Hughes went around the country to a number of places to learn what was the best way to do it. How did you construct the board? What was the board's set of responsibilities, etc? So you learn a lot from that and you establish colleagues for life, which allows you to pick up the phone and call somebody and say, hey, I saw you in Cleveland when we visited. We've got this new situation. I remember you mentioned that and suddenly you've got a resource that otherwise you'd have to be hunting hard for. So those make connections. They form a network which again, for a big place like this, networks are very, very important indeed.
Tom Hall: And everybody that I've spoken to in this podcast series says something very similar to that, the connections, the network expansion that everybody enjoys. And as you say, it's just going to aid and abet the search for best practices. Dr. Bruce Jarrell is the President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. And Dr. Jarrell, thanks so much for joining us here on the Chesapeake Connect podcast.
Dr. Bruce Jarrell: Thank you for having me, Tom. A delightful discussion, an important one indeed.
Tom Hall: Tom Sadowski is the Vice Chancellor for Economic Development from the University System of Maryland. Thanks to you as well, sir. Appreciate your being on the show.
Tom Sadowski: Thanks again, Tom, for the opportunity.
Tom Hall: The Chesapeake Connect podcast is produced by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council with assistance from WYPR. Please subscribe to our podcast on whatever podcasting app you use and give us a rating if you're so inclined. It helps other listeners find out about our show. The Baltimore Metropolitan Council works collaboratively with our region's elected executives to identify mutual interests and develop collaborative strategies, plans and programs that improve our quality of life and economic vitality. BMC member jurisdictions include Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Queen Anne’s Counties. For more information, come on over to baltometro.org. Our producer is Mark Gunnery. On our next episode of The Chesapeake Connect Podcast, we'll be talking about the branding of Baltimore and tourism with Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott and Al Hutchinson, the president and CEO of Visit Baltimore. So we'll see you the next time. I'm Tom Hall. Thanks for connecting.