24 Mar IBIO: A twelve year retrospective on biotechnology in Illinois
CHICAGO – It was 1997, and there were not many biotech companies in Illinois, surprising for a state that had fostered back in 1980 what many consider to be the number one biotech company, Applied Molecular Genetics, now known as Amgen (with technology out of University of Chicago and capital and management from Abbott Labs).
Still, those few biotech companies in Illinois felt a need to congregate and share common problems: raising capital, finding good talent, and the challenges of getting to a revenue-producing stage. Thus was born the Chicago Biotechnology Network Association, otherwise known to those affiliated with it as “CBN”.
The early founders of CBN included tech stalwarts such as Tom Livingston of the Illinois Medical District/Chicago Technology Park, Bob Rosenberg of the University of Chicago, Tom Churchwell (the resident venture capitalist and a former Searle/Monsanto exec) of Arch Development Partners, Michael Hogg (former Abbott Labs exec)of Business Counsel, Michael Becker of Wayne Hummer Investments (a biotech analyst), Alice Martin of Barnes & Thornburg, Jude Offerling (former Schering-Plough exec)of a local biotech company, Steve March (another former Abbott Labs exec)of BioInform, , Dave Franckowiack (former Coopers & Lybrand ) of Endorex, and CBN’s first president Marci Buettgen.
Note that your’s truly didn’t get involved in the new CBN until 1998, as he was engrossed in moving a former North Dakota-based biotech company called ImmunoTherapeutics, which morphed into the new Endorex, down to Chicago after raising the first funding and licensing new technologies from University of Wisconsin and MIT.
A year or so later, the Illinois Biotech Association, Illinois’ second biotech organization, was founded with a focus on downstate agriculture and included many of the key agricultural and crop associations involved in Illinois farming.
It was not until 2001 until these two organizations would merge to become the new IBIO, Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization (www.ibio.org), incorporating a state wide approach. This new entity is now in its 8th year and celebrated its 8th birthday party last week during the annual IBIO IndEx (Industry Exposition) Conference at the Hyatt Regency downtown Chicago.
The IBIO IndEx Conference 2009 version was in many ways like a big birthday party with many of the faces from the early days but also a number of the faces that have joined the organization over the last 8 years including the Big Pharma representatives in the region such as Abbott Labs, Baxter,Takeda, Astellas, Hospira, and other life science companies such as Monsanto, ArcherDanielMidlands, Tate & Lyle, Ovation Pharmaceuticals, VWR Scientific, Nanosphere, Advanced Life Sciences , Chromatin, Valent Biosciences and many others.
To celebrate the event, and as a marker of the progress this organization has made keynote presentations were made by the President of BIO (the national biotechnology industry organization), Jim Greenwood, and Miles White, Chairman & CEO of Abbott Labs. As part of this celebration, IBIO ventured into the arena of two new emerging and fast-growing areas of biotechnology:
- Stem cell therapy (regenerative medicine)
Whereas the 2008 version of the IBIO IndEx highlighted the University of Illinois (both Chicago and Champaign/Urbana), this year’s version focused on Northwestern University. In both of the two key areas, above Northwestern is both a pioneer and national if not global leader. This is not to say that Illinois’ other universities do not have expertise in these areas, but Northwestern has consolidated a critical mass.
This critical mass and expertise is timely given the substantial significant change in direction which the Obama Government has taken as recently as last week on stem cell therapy, particularly embryionic stem cell therapy, in which our new President revoked a good part of the Bush Government prior order curtailing drastically experimentation in this area.
As part of the Stimulus Package, a substantial increase in scientific programs around the U.S. and particularly the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is taking place, and many universities are scrambling to apply for new grants, which will undoubtedly favorably impact the biotech industry. Almost coincidentally, the first phase I clinical trial using embryonic stem cells was initiated by the biotech company Geron, marking a new stage in biotech history.
Although IBIO has been transformed over the last 8 years into a financially stable organization, yet another indication of its expanded activity is its ability to initiate advocacy downstate with our Illinois legislature to promote an environment to retain and attract companies to Illinois.
This is no small mandate as Illinois has lagged behind the rest of the Midwest in venture and angel capital, the vital fuel to fund start-ups. IBIO will become even more aggressive this year and next in this realm, particularly as the BIO International Conference returns to Chicago in 2010 and then again in 2013, when Illinois wants to show progress since the 2006 show.
At the core of biotechnology is an ability to fund, grow and retain start-up companies meaning creating improved tech transfer from Illinois universities (which has not been stellar in the past, but which has also improved significantly). IBIO over the last year or so created the PROPEL Program to assist new companies to weave their way through all the difficult landmines facing start-ups, and a PROPEL competition was held with several early stage companies competing for a $10,000 prize from IBIO. Sanogene, a new cancer products company, won the prize. While this competition is healthy and good, hopefully the day will soon come when this prize is 10 fold higher, e.g. $100,000.
It was a good biotech birthday party for IBIO, and an exciting leading lead-in to what will be a frenetic 2010 with hopefully improved conditions for the U.S. economy and the biotech industry. IBIO is on the right track in trying to get Illinois to be more competitive in the not only the Midwest but versus other regions of the U.S. and world, but there needs to be a greater sense of urgency in our Illinois legislature, and all members of the Illinois biotech community will need to make this group aware of the high value of this sector.
As Jim Greenwood reminded us, it is critical to educate the legislature about biotech (a challenge he has faced in Washington), as many just don’t understand the industry. As Greenwood also emphasized, it is not about the huge dollars of investment to get a product from research to the marketplace, it IS about emphasizing the significant progress in disease management and patient quality of life, or in the case of agriculture, improved crop yields in the face of less water or other resources.
The Midwest, of which Illinois is the hub, still faces an uphill battle versus California, Massachusetts and North Carolina in recognition of its biotech efforts. This conference, at least, gave us pause for celebration, a glimpse of our scientific future, and how we can take the next step. Happy Birthday IBIO!
See you soon!
Recent columns by Michael Rosen
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- Michael Rosen: U.S. Venture Capital 2008: Strong Midwest growth albeit overall decline
- Michael Rosen: CleanTech VC investments on the rise during 2008 while life sciences lags
- Michael Rosen: The bumping of Pharma elephants: Pfizer and Wyeth
This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission. The article is not meant to be a stock recommendation.
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