17 Oct Better collaboration urged to further Wisconsin biotech
Oconomowoc, Wis. – How important is the biotech industry to the economy of a region?
Just ask Philadelphia. Or San Diego. Or Boston.
Better yet, look at the numbers.
That’s what Ross DeVol, director of regional economics for the Santa Monica-based Milken Institute, did for a landmark study released last summer at the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s annual meeting, held in Philadelphia. Philly leaders wanted to know where that city stood in comparison to heavy hitters Boston and San Diego, so DeVol and his staff spent months crunching statistics.
DeVol spoke last week at the annual conference of Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association, held in Oconomowoc. The conference was attended by over 300 enthusiastic business, research, and academic leaders from Madison, Milwaukee, and beyond.
On a scale of 1 to 100, Philly ranks in the top five in most categories: R&D, availability of risk capital, numbers of degrees granted, numbers of clinical trials and FDA approvals for new drugs, and others.
Other strong regions are San Franciso, Raleigh/Durham, Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Dallas. Wisconsin is not yet on that list.
Wisconsin ranks high in the area of research, but research alone isn’t enough to catalyze business creation and new jobs.
Wisconsin needs “serial entrepreneurs,” willing to invest in risky but promising start-ups, DeVol said. “Not just money, but smart money.”
Collaboration among researchers, industry, and financiers is key, he added. “Unless you provide economic opportunity for talent creation, you’re going to lose it.” His study predicts 150,000 jobs will be created nationally over the next decade in biotech and related fields. “Wisconsin needs to capitalize on that, and not let it drift outward to places like California.” In the area of stem cell research, that’s already happening, he said.
The Geron Corporation of Menlo Park, California, which financed groundbreaking embryonic stem cell research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will begin human clinical trials next year of a method to regrow nerve cells in the spinal cord, DeVol said.
Irene Hrusovsky, WBMDA president and president and CEO of Madison-based EraGen Biosciences, called DeVol’s study “real sophisticated and very credible.”
Tim Keane, director of the Marquette Golden Angel Network, said the key for Wisconsin is finding investors who know and understand biotech. “If I have a biotech idea, the very best investor is someone who’s done it before,” he said. In Wisconsin, he added, “it’s a needle in a haystack.”
WBMDA vice-president James Leonhart says the group plans to start organizing to carry out some of DeVol’s suggestions. “The message is that there’s no state coordinated effort,” he said. “Now, there’s interest in doing something.”