08 May BIO 2007: Wisconsin makes its presence felt
Boston, Mass. – Actors turned activists, researchers with breakthroughs to highlight, royalty, and the possibility record-setting attendance are part of the scientific carnival that is BIO 2007, and perhaps no geographic region is more eager to tell its story than Wisconsin.
Part of that story is the news that Quincy Bioscience, a Madison-based biotechnology company, has produced a preclinical compound for the treatment of strokes.
The highlight of the conference’s first day was a presentation by actor and embryonic stem cell research advocate Michael J. Fox, who drew a standing-room-only crowd as he addressed the need to translate basic research into better treatments for people living with Parkinson’s Disease, which include Fox, himself, and noted the opportunity associated with the following statistic: of the 30,000 known human diseases, treatments exist for only 10,000.
While Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, former state senator and U.S. ambassador to Norway Tom Loftus, and University of Wisconsin-Madison virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka don’t quite have the star power of Fox or the majesty of Jordan’s Queen Noor, who spoke on biotechnology’s impact on global health, they attracted their share of the attention in separate presentations late Monday.
Rod Hise, president of the Madison-based Luminis Group, has been surveying some of the 1,900 exhibitors since arriving in Boston, and found Wisconsin representatives eager to showcase the state’s contributions to the biotechnology industry.
“The general tenor of the event is very upbeat,” Hise said. “I think this year’s event is Wisconsin’s most impressive showing.”
Biotech commerce on display
An estimated 22,000 people are expected to attend the three-day event, and visitors to the Wisconsin pavilion saw presentations Monday from 10 companies and organizations before hearing from Doyle and Kawaoka and attending an evening reception. Representatives from the Marshfield Clinic, which is in the process of conducting a personalized medicine research project, plus life-science execs like Barb Israel, CEO of Platypus Technologies, and Bill Checovich, CEO of Caden Biosciences, were among the more than 60 Wisconsin companies and representatives describing the technology under development here.
The world of academia was manned by Kawaoka, a recognized authority on avian influenza. While much is made of UW-Madison’s contributions to stem cell research and biofuels, Kawaoka’s laboratory has been remarkably productive. It identified the key genetic changes required for pandemic strains of the deadly avian influenza, which the world health community is scrambling to control, it discovered that flu viruses were starting to develop resistance to drugs like Tamiflu, and it discovered a compound that might offer broad protection against flu viruses.
His work will be further recognized this fall with the opening of the Institute for Influenza Viral Research at Madison’s University Research Park.
The potential commercial applications of Kawaoka’s work, and other commercial prospects for Wisconsin research, is consistent with an overall conference theme: translating basic research to the marketplace.
Jim Leonhart, vice president of the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association, said some Wisconsin companies had as many as 20 meetings scheduled to take advantage of opportunities to network or explore business relationships with potential vendor partners or investors.
“They’ve really learned how to work BIO,” Leonhart observed.
Mark Underwood, president of Quincy Bioscience, used the conference to announce the development of a preclinical compound for the treatment of stroke and the formation of Quincy Stroke Technologies, a subsidiary of Quincy Bioscience.
The parent company, also based in University Research Park, has been working to develop aequorin, a calcium-binding, neuroprotective compound derived from jellyfish, to develop a series of applications to destroy degenerative diseases. It plans to start with stroke and also attempt to develop treatments for Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Underwood said the stroke compound, known as QB-1221, is designed to be injected into people who have just suffered strokes and are in emergency treatment situations. He said the compound can prevent a lot of the neurological damage that occurs as a result of hemorrhagic (bleeding) and ischemic (clot) strokes.
“Damage from a stroke happens quickly,” Underwood said, “but not immediately.”
Underwood said the company is seeking $10 million in capital to further develop the compound, and would like to start human clinical trials in 2009.
Bring it here
Michael Gay, representing the City of Madison Office of Business Resources, also had economic development on his mind. The conference is an international event, drawing people from 60 countries, and Gay met with European companies interested in opening an office in Wisconsin.
There is recent precedent for such a move. CellCura, a Norwegian biotech and stem cell research company, last year announced plans to open an office in Madison.
According to Gay, one company he spoke to has 60 percent of its market in the United States, and it wants to be closer to its American customer base and gain access to venture capital. “They are looking to establish North American partnerships,” Gay said.
• CellCura could start an invasion of stem cell firms
• Biotech talent drew venture-funded firm to Madison
• Biotech firm has strokes, Alzheimer’s in its sights
• Platypus ready to unveil new commercial lines
• Flu institute a booster shot for Wisconsin biotech stature