Wisconsin to show up at BIO in numbers

Wisconsin to show up at BIO in numbers

Wisconsin’s reputation as an emerging biotechnology hot spot will be further enhanced next month when the state is well represented at one of the world’s premier biotechnology conferences, businesses and organizations here hope.
Wisconsin attendees will make up 1.5 percent of the total participation at the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s International Convention, which will be held April 9-12 at Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center. That’s more than many other states and some countries.
More commonly known as BIO 2006, the conference will be injected with a heavy dose of healthcare and regulatory information, and it will attract roughly 20,000 scientists, business executives, and media representatives. Plenary speakers include former president Bill Clinton, Michael Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Miles D. White, chairman and CEO of Abbott Laboratories.
Ron Kuehn, vice president of government relations for the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association, said the state has almost 300 registrants prepared to attend BIO 2006. Among Midwestern states, Wisconsin is second only to host Illinois in the number of biotech companies that plan to participate. “I think ours is an industry that is paying attention to the international conference,” Kuehn said. “It’s obviously an engaged community because that’s tremendous representation by the state.”
Most of Wisconsin’s 40+ exhibitors are from Madison, and the University of Wisconsin will have a major presence. Organizations like the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, University Research Park, the Waisman Clinical Bio Manufacturing Facility, and the WiCell Research Institute will send representatives to Chicago.
Private-sector Madison will be represented by biotech notables Promega Corp., Scientific Protein Labs, EraGen Biosciences, and Cellular Dynamics, the cardiac drug toxicity testing service founded by UW-Madison stem cell researcher Jamie Thomson.
Regina Reynolds, director of corporate communications for EraGen, known for its clinical molecular diagnostics and drug discovery technology, said the BIO conference has been especially important to the company in the areas of visibility, partnership development, and making contact with prospective investors. At BIO 2006, EraGen will be actively involved in the Wisconsin Pavilion. The company will have a booth presence and will conduct a presentation in the pavilion.
“We see this as an important part of our marketing and investor strategy as we look for business partners in molecular diagnostics and niche applications such as molecular diagnostics for the biodefense effort,” Reynolds said.
Milwaukee is attempting to build a knowledge-based economy with the help of renewed research vigor. Milwaukee County Research Park, the Wisconsin Association for Biomedical Research & Education, and the Biomedical Technology Alliance will represent the state’s largest metropolitan area. The alliance was formed to foster collaboration between academic researchers, and its members include UW-Milwaukee, Marquette University, UW-Parkside, and the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Milwaukee’s private sector representatives will include several tenants of Milwaukee County Research Park, including PhysioGenix, Inc. and Neurognostics, Inc. Guy Mascari, director of development for the research park, will attend BIO 2006 with varying expectations. “At the very least, we’re expecting to get some exposure down there,” he said. “Ideally, we’d like to get in touch with companies, especially start-up companies, that would be interested in moving to our area, perhaps to our incubator.”
“A secondary objective is to look for potential strategic relationships between our companies and the companies that we run into down there, although that is more effectively done by individual companies,” he said.
John Seman, CEO of PhysioGenix, said his company’s driving interest is to network and identify new customers interested in its products and services. PhysioGenix provides contract research services that focus on the safety and effectiveness of new drugs before they enter human clinical trials.
Seman realizes that the Madison biotechnology community is stronger in number than Milwaukee’s, but in the interest of overall economic development, he would like to see more of a balanced focus between the two cities. “Milwaukee has all the potential to become a vibrant biotechnology community,” he said, “but it’s behind in the race, and Madison has been down this road for many more years.”
Neurognostics, which specializes in magnetic resonance imaging products, will also present in the booth manned by the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association. CEO Douglas Tucker indicated that the opportunity to present information about products and services to new faces was the lure to attend this year’s conference. “It’s not really our customers that are there,” he said. “It’s more of an attempt to represent the association and foster appreciation for what we do in Wisconsin.”