09 Oct Wisconsin's role in health a focus of biotech event
Waukesha, Wis. – Wisconsin’s role in tackling the world’s most worrisome health issues is one of the major thrusts of the 2006 annual conference of the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association.
The conference, which will be held Oct. 12 at the GE Healthcare Institute in Waukesha, will not only feature addresses by Gov. Jim Doyle and former Gov. Tommy Thompson, but session topics on global biological threats and personalized medicine.
“One of the main goals or missions of this conference is to show that we’ve got a maturing bioscience industry in this state that is ready to step up to the health issues of the world,” said Jim Leonhart, executive vice president of the association. “We have a lot of companies doing things right now and producing products and services to be a serious player, and so that’s part of our intent.”
Leaders from industry, academia, and government also are set to confer on issues influencing the evolution of the biotechnology industry in Wisconsin.
Thompson, who also is a former secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services, will deliver the conference’s luncheon keynote address on medical diplomacy and the promise it could hold for promoting world peace.
Later in the event, Doyle will deliver an address on the state of the biotechnology and medical device industry.
The conference also will feature Jeremi Suri, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of History, who will moderate a discussion on the economic and social consequences of global biological threats, including the avian flu.
A team of UW researchers has discovered an anti-viral compound that has prevented the spread of avian and other types of flu in cell cultures and mice, but it might be three or more years before it is tested on humans in clinical trials.
Next summer, UW-Madison is scheduled to open the Institute for Influenza Viral Research in a remodeled building at University Research Park. The 20,000-square-foot institute will house the research team of UW Professor of Virology Yoshihiro Kawaoka.
Suri’s session will draw from three panelists: Neal Drawas, managing director of corporate preparedness at Kroll, a risk consulting company; James Prudent, chief scientific officer at EraGen Biosciences, a Madison-based molecular diagnostic tool developer; and Terry O’Sullivan, postdoctoral research associate at the University of Southern California Homeland Security Center, a government-funded interdisciplinary research center.
EraGen has developed a MultiCode panel, a diagnostic tool, that can rapidly detect viruses that cause avian flu and other respiratory diseases. The technology, which can detect multiple viruses in one test, is being validated at major laboratories in the United States in anticipation of future commercialization.
The session on genetic-based, or personalized medicine, will have a heavy Wisconsin flavor, including moderator Miguel Blanc, manager of global business development with GE Healthcare. Panelists include Joel McComb, president and general manager of commercial operations in the Americas for GE Healthcare, and Peter Tonellato, vice president of business development and chief scientific officer of PointOne Systems, a Milwaukee company that designs genetic information systems.
They will describe how the biotech and the medical device industries are collaborating to ensure that personal genetic profiles will be used to identify a patient’s predisposition to various diseases.
Leonhart noted the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation is establishing a new position to improve the rate of technology transfer from academic centers to commerce, and he said Ross Wallace, the director of corporate strategy for Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District, would discuss that very topic. MaRS is designed to improve the rate of technology transfer in Canada.
The subject is of increasing interested in Wisconsin due to a recent Milken Institute study indicating that while the University of Wisconsin System ranks ninth among the world’s universities in biotechnology patents, it ranks just 22nd in the transfer of intellectual property to commercial uses.
“One of the other things that comes out of this is the fact that we’ve got a lot of great research ideas in this state that we need to commercialize at a more rapid rate,” Leonhart said. “That’s also part of the idea here, bringing in the MaRS project in Toronto and explaining how they are successful in turning research into jobs.”
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