01 Jun Life Sciences: Wisconsin – The Smart Choice Part Two
Editor’s Note: The Wisconsin Technology Council has published the first-ever magazine about Wisconsin’s life sciences industry. The 24-page publication highlights the state’s research base, technology-transfer process, company creation, quality of life, key contacts and the “I-Q Corridor” that joins Chicago, Wisconsin and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
The Wisconsin Technology Network has arranged to post excerpts from “Life Sciences: Wisconsin – The Smart Choice,” over the next few weeks. Today we present part 2. Stay tuned for more chapters!
From intellectual property to the market: Tech Transfer in Wisconsin
Break biotechnology into its root words and you have …
Bio, from the Greek word for “life;” and
Technology, from the Greek words meaning “art” and “knowledge.”
To people in the 21st century, biotechnology has become the art of solving problems and making useful products through our knowledge of the life sciences. Then again, using biological processes to solve problems is hardly new. Humans began growing crops and raising animals some 10,000 years ago to provide a steady supply of food and clothing. We have used the biological processes of microorganisms for 6,000 years to make bread, cheese and beer …
That brings us to Wisconsin, a state where the study and commercialization of life sciences touch almost everything we do. The state’s agriculture, brewing and food processing industries would not be where they are today without a history of technology transfer. Environmental biosciences are changing how we protect and clean our water and our land. In health sciences, profound and life-altering discoveries are being transferred from the laboratory to the marketplace.
Here is an overview of Wisconsin’s infrastructure for helping bioscience ideas grow into products and services.
The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation
Better known by its acronym – WARF — the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation patents and licenses the discoveries of University of Wisconsin scientists. Founded in 1925 by Professor Harry Steenbock (whose Vitamin D discovery eventually eliminated rickets), WARF is recognized as a national model for tech transfer. Through its subsidiary, WiSys, it also patents and licenses discoveries from other UW campuses outside the UW-Madison. WARF’s WiCell subsidiary also holds what many experts consider the “gold standard” for stem cell lines, the result of work by internationally known Dr. James Thomson and his team of researchers.
WARF’s mission is to support scientific research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It moves inventions arising from the university’s laboratories to the marketplace and it manages an endowment that WARF has grown since its inception. WARF accepts about 400 disclosures per year and is nationally known for its user-friendly approach to tech transfer. Nearly all of the income from WARF’s transfer of technology and investment management is returned each year to the university to fund further scientific research. Over the years, WARF’s activities have made a profound, positive impact upon the health, safety and welfare of humankind. In addition to Steenbock’s advance, the roster of UW-Madison discoveries patented and licensed by WARF includes:
Karl Paul Link’s discovery of coumarin, the basis for Coumadin®, the most widely prescribed blood thinner for treating cardiovascular disease, and its counterpart, Warfarin, still the most widely used rodenticide worldwide;
A storage solution for transplant organs developed by Folkert Belzer and James Southard, which dramatically increases the amount of time organs can remain viable outside the body and significantly expands organ availability;
Paul Moran’s magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) innovation that has greatly improved the diagnosis of trauma-induced injury and various disease states, and Charles Mistretta’s MRI advances, which have done the same for the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease;
A pharmaceutical tablet coating technique developed by Dale E. Wurster, which is used widely by industry to mask the unpleasant taste of drugs and to control their release in the body;
Edwin B. Hart’s discovery that copper facilitates the assimilation of iron by the body, which led to a therapeutic agent for anemia;
Pharmaceuticals based on Hector DeLuca’s vitamin D derivatives, which have been prescribed worldwide to treat bone disorders and other diseases resulting from vitamin D deficiencies;
And most recently, James Thomson’s isolation of human embryonic stem cells, which has paved the way toward treatments for currently incurable diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.
University Research Park
In the 20 years since University Research Park in Madison was conceived, it has evolved from being a sleepy and underused research farm to the home of 107 companies with 4,000 employees. It is often the landing place for UW-based companies licensed through WARF.
In addition to providing land and infrastructure, University Research Park offers a technology incubator, the Madison Gas & Electric Innovation Center. Surrounding the MG&E Innovation Center is the rest of the 255 acres set aside for the park, including 33 other buildings with owners or tenants that include Third Wave Technologies, NimbleGen, Stratatech and Deltanoid Pharmaceuticals. Unlike most research parks, University Research Park receives no city or state funds to support its infrastructure. In fact, the park pays local property taxes. The University Research Park is not only self-sustaining, but returns all profits to UWMadison research programs, which fuels the kind of technology transfer and economic growth the park encourages.
Medical College of Wisconsin Research Foundation
Five Wisconsin-based businesses and organizations have formed a unique $2.5 million loan pool supporting the efforts of the Medical College of Wisconsin Research Foundation to expand its technology transfer and commercialization activities. The Foundation has also created a new Division of Marketing and Licensing for the primary purpose of increasing revenue for the Medical College through an aggressive program to commercially license the college’s intellectual property portfolio.
The financing for the new program will be drawn from the newly created MCWRF Technology Development Fund, with the bulk of the dollars committed by Milwaukee-based organizations. The supporters have collectively committed $500,000 annually for the next five years. In addition to the Medical College, the consortium includes Robert W. Baird & Co., the Helen Bader Foundation, Inc., Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation and Madison-based Promega Corporation.
Also in Milwaukee, the Milwaukee County Research Park will have about 37 acres for development after the $85 million GE Healthcare expansion project is completed. GE Healthcare will bring as many as 2,000 workers to the Milwaukee park, which already has 44 companies in biotechnology, information technology and other fields. All the companies in the park employ about 2,300 people.
TechStar is a consortium formed in 2001 by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and Milwaukee-area universities to help transform academic research into commercial ventures. Much of TechStar’s work so far has centered on companies in life sciences. It provides start-up companies with management services, business plan development and access to startup capital.
The La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium was formed in 1994 as an alliance between a comprehensive university (UW-La Crosse), a two-year vocational college (Western Wisconsin Technical College), an independent college (Viterbo College), and two independent hospitals and clinics (Gundersen Lutheran and the Franciscan Skemp Healthcare/Mayo Health System). It operates a $27 million, 168,000- square-foot center that is an interdisciplinary force in medical research, training and clinical care in the “7 Rivers Region,” which includes 20 counties in western Wisconsin, northeastern Iowa and southeastern Minnesota.
Supporting tech transfer efforts in the life sciences and beyond is the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. The Commerce Department assists start-up companies in life sciences and other technologies through loans, grants and a certification process that makes investors in those companies eligible for tax credits. The department’s Bureau of Entrepreneurship helps young bioscience firms get on their feet. Its international division manages trade offices in five countries.
The Wisconsin Technology Council is the science and technology adviser to the governor and the Legislature, and its 40-member board includes many life science leaders from business and research. The Tech Council produces the Wisconsin Life Sciences and Venture Conference, the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference and the Governor’s Business Plan Contest, all of which help bioscience and other tech startups make the leap from idea to companies. The Tech Council also helps life sciences firms that may wish to relocate in Wisconsin, linking them to researchers, facilities and opportunities for investment.
Forward Wisconsin is the state’s marketing arm to business, often serving to connect companies to business opportunities in Wisconsin. It provides a range of information about the state’s workforce and available business locations. Forward Wisconsin’s marketing efforts are focused on six target industries – including biotechnology. Forward Wisconsin coordinates the state’s presence at the annual international BIO convention.
This article was reproduced with permission, courtesy of the Wisconsin Technology Council, from their recently published Wisconsin Life Science magazine. All rights reserved.