12 Mar A Midwest life-science odyssey comes full circle
When I started this column just over four years ago, I had no idea that I would continue with it for even a year. My interest in writing a column was to share with other members of the Midwest life-science community information that I thought would help them with business plans, presentations, and just overall awareness about life science in the Midwest.
During my days as a biotech CEO, I quickly realized that I couldn’t afford the kind of market research we used to take for granted at Big Pharma: IMS monthly audits, Frost & Sullivan reports, Scrip magazine (several times a week). These expensive resources were wonderful, but they were beyond the budget of a young, venture-funded biotech company. Nevertheless, market information about diseases and products always was necessary, so thanks to the Internet, I learned creative ways to access information.
What was just an initial desire to talk to the world about what was happening in the Midwest, where I have resided off and on for the last 20 years (with some overseas interludes), plus those formative college years in Wisconsin, have helped shape the mind of this ex-New Yorker. As a New Yorker, I would never have thought of spending so much of my life, repeatedly, in the Midwest. But looking back, it is really not so strange when I look at family roots and personal experiences. I have been transformed into a Midwestern Odysseus!
My father’s family, a combination of Polish and Hungarian and German Jews, took root in Cleveland, Ohio, and my father’s father and siblings grew up there, with an extensive family. My grandfather, Jules Rosen (né Aschnowitz), after a childhood in Cleveland, embarked upon an extensive stint in the Far East, initially as a buyer for major groups in the U.S., then later on his own with two companies: Hackmack & Rosen North China Trading Co., based in Shanghai, and Dai-ichi (Number 1) Raw Silk Trading Co., based in Yokohama, Japan during the early part of the 20th century. Travels to New York and Europe and meeting my grandmother, a German Jew, lead to the family setting up life in New York, although my grandfather continued his peripatetic ways.
From Grandfather Jules, I derived my own love of Asia (and later Latin America where he lived most of the latter part of his life), but was also interested in his Midwest roots. His sister, my great Aunt Hilda, who worked until her late 80s out of Cleveland, was in many ways like a grandmother, and invited me numerous times to meet the Cleveland clan (Mishpucha), my first taste of the Midwest, which occurred in junior high and then again in high school.
The New York-Beloit connection
My second exposure to the Midwest came in those already mentioned formative years (1970-1974) at Beloit College, in none other than Beloit, Wis., hailing distance from Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee. Interestingly enough, although Beloit only had 1,200 students, there must have been at least eight students from my own high school in Scarsdale, N.Y., another 50 or more from my county (Westchester), and at least 200 to 300 from the New York metropolitan area. (Okay, I will include New Jersey as well.) If we take into account the East Coast from Washington, D.C. to Boston, I am willing to bet that at least 40 percent of Beloit’s population hailed from this area. Not bad for a small Wisconsin town in the middle of farmland (and bloody cold in the winter).
I think we made Midwest history with a Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention concert my freshmen year, when it seemed half of Wisconsin and Chicago descended on Beloit. But we actually had a number of very cool concerts during my years at Beloit, including the likes of Leo Kottke, the James Cotton Blues Band, and others.
Surprisingly, Beloit got me interested in Latin America, which led to an important pathway and theme of my life. (Grandfather Jules by this time had done a 20-year stint in Caracas, followed by another 20-year stint in Freeport, Grand Bahama.)
Mapping Midwest biotech
Fast forward another 15 years (1985), and I found myself, amazingly, in yet another Midwestern state and small town for two years: Evansville, Indiana, just north of the Mason-Dixon Line (Ohio River). Working for the U.S. division of Bristol-Myers in Evansville, I got a taste not only of southern Indiana, but just across the river and not far away, Louisville, Kentucky. As Evansville was not famous for its cultural activities, we decided to get a feeling of other Midwest/Southern cities, so weekend visits to St. Louis, Missouri, Indianapolis, Nashville, Tennessee, Cincinnati, and other places rounded out my geographical knowledge of the Midwest.
Two years later (1987), the family and I landed in Chicago, working for G.D. Searle for four years, and then another four-year stint at the parent company, Monsanto, headquartered in St. Louis. I visited Monsanto frequently, although I was stationed back in South America, running an array of Monsanto business in a number of countries.
Although my next activity led me to Europe to run a biotech company there, a few years later (1996) I found myself back in Chicago running a small biotech company in Fargo, N.D., while commuting from Chicago. (This was before the movie Fargo had been released; had I had the benefit of this movie before starting my own Fargo stint, I might have saved myself a lot of anguish.)
Minneapolis was not only the place where I often had to change planes to get to Fargo, but also where a number of the company’s consultants and later chairman of the board were domiciled, as well as some of the companies we were trying to partner with. As a result, I became fairly familiar with this other pole of the Midwest.
Also, licensing a drug from the University of Wisconsin-Madison took me back frequently to a place I hadn’t been in since my college days.
Various stints as CEO of start-ups out of universities in Illinois and Wisconsin has, over the last four years, taken me to Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, and Detroit, Mich., Columbus, Ohio, Kansas City, St. Louis, Rochester, Minn. and other Midwestern cities and states. The only one I haven’t really spent much time in is Iowa, but over the years I have connected with several Iowa companies and persons (including a longtime childhood friend who relocated his family there after 9/11).
Four years ago, I started a mission to let others around the Midwest and U.S. know about what we really have here, as well as inform Midwesterners of key biotech trends in other parts of the world that might impact the Midwestern landscape. This quest has led me to Japan, Israel, Switzerland, Brazil, Canada, and very soon to India. Interestingly, over the last four years, readers of my articles have hailed from India, Germany, Italy, Australia, South America, and Spain. The power of the Internet (and Google) has spread the word about the Midwest, and specifically Midwest life science, far beyond what I originally conceived when I first started writing this column four years ago. And boy, has it been fun!
The growth of agricultural biotech
As the Midwest is the “Breadbasket of the U.S.,” with key production of major U.S. crops such as soybean and corn, and many dairy products, it is logical that I review the impact of biotechnology on the agricultural sector.
According to a recent article in BIO News, global biotech crop acreage increased 13 percent during 2006, reaching 252 million acres in 22 countries. I must clarify that agricultural biotech is at least 15 to 20 years behind pharmaceutical biotech, having emerged only in the last 10 or so years. Much of Western Europe refuses to adopt any of the biotech crops, so this increase is even more remarkable when you exclude this large area (although six countries in the European Union have now planted biotech crops).
Again, as BIO states, more than half of the world’s arable crop land is in these same 22 countries. More importantly, another 29 countries now have approved biotech crops, and other new crops are gaining importance, such as biotech alfalfa – for which 200,000 acres were planted in the U.S. during 2006.
There are more than 10.3 million farmers using biotech crops in the 22 countries, an increase of 21 percent over 2005. This number is expected to double in the next eight years, when an additional 200 million acres will come on line in a total of 40 countries.
Some of the key crops driving this move are biotech rice, and biofuels from a variety of sources (corn and soybean in the U.S., sugarcane in Brazil, etc.). The new biofuels pact signed by the presidents of the U.S. and Brazil should further enhance the focus on this key area as an alternative to traditional fuels. Biotech crops have another key benefit for farmers in emerging countries: drought-tolerance.
Planting it here
The U.S. is clearly leading the way: during 2006 American farmers planted:
• 66.7 million acres of biotech soybean (89 percent of all soybeans grown in the U.S.)
• 12.7 million acres of biotech cotton (83 percent of all cotton grown in the U.S.)
• 48.4 million acres of biotech corn.
But the U.S. is not the only country benefiting from biotech crops: 9.3 million small farmers in 11 countries, including China, India, the Philippines, and South Africa, significantly increased their plantings.
The key benefits of biotech crops are:
• Reduction in production costs (estimated at about $1.4 billion).
• Increased crop production (more than 8.3 billion pounds) and farmer revenue (over $2 billion increase in 2006 and $27 billion in the last decade).
• Reduction in pesticide applications (a reduction of 69.7 million pounds in the U.S. alone).
• Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing four million cars from the road.
Key research milestones were achieved during 2006, including the sequencing of the genome of hogs, wheat, cassava, potatoes, poplars, the apple, the western honey bee, the cottonwood tree, as well as some key agricultural diseases: Citrus Tristeza Virus (CTV). Other areas of research that progressed include studies of biotech pigs with increased heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and prion protein-free cows that are resistant to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “Mad Cow” Disease.
The biggest push, encouraged by the federal government and President Bush in his 2006 State of the Union Address, is on biofuels to cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil and create a renewable fuels policy. Bioethanol production in the U.S. leaped to 4.9 million gallons in 2006 and should more than double in the next two years. The new biofuels pact with Brazil will not only provide a source of a cleaner fuel to the U.S. but also new technology as Brazil has become totally self-sufficient on fuels through development of biotech sugar cane.
The Midwest saw significant expansion of its own bio-fuels capacity with the creation of new manufacturing and processing facilities. The stock prices of companies in this business segment saw spectacular increases during 2006, as a number of companies went public and held successful initial public stock offerings.
Of course, with increased use comes increased regulation to assess the food-safety risk, and new guidelines, particularly for animal biotechnology and the effects of cloning.
The growth of agricultural biotechnology over the next 10 years will be as widespread as its pharmaceutical counterpart, and the U.S. (and for the most part U.S. companies) will continue to provide leadership in this sector.
See you soon!
Previous articles by Michael Rosen
• Michael Rosen: Bioscience clusters: Too many or room for more?
• Michael Rosen: The deconstruction of “Big Pharma”
• Michael Rosen: The 10 biggest events shaping biotech in 2006
• Michael Rosen: A Midwest small-cap, life-science surprise package
• Michael Rosen: 2006: A mixed blessing for Midwest life science companies
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC.
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