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Madison Area Cited as Emerging Biotechnology Cluster

10 Jun, 2009


Regional collaboration showcases our strong biotech economy to drive business in the region

For the second year in a row, a regional coalition (including the cities of Fitchburg, Madison, and Middleton; Madison Gas and Electric; Alliant Energy; Thrive, the Economic Development Enterprise for the eight-county Madison Region and the UW-Madison, new to the coalition this year) will promote the Madison Region’s biotech strengths at the BIO International Conference, scheduled in Atlanta May 18-21, 2009 (bio2009.org). The annual BIO shows are the biotech industry’s largest event, typically attracting a global audience of more than 20,000 scientific and executive leaders.

“The Madison Region has a positive story to convey at BIO in 2009—our biotech industry is making advances despite the economy. This year, two national publications (Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News and GenomeWeb) have cited the Madison area as an emerging biotechnology cluster.”

“Both UW-Madison and regional biotech companies have announced significant breakthroughs or achieved product milestones in the past fivemonths. We’ve made some significant strides in diagnostics, drug development and stem cell technologies—research areas where we’re garnering national recognition,” added Cheryl Gain, Thrive’s Director of Biotechnology Initiatives.

Madison Region biotechnology success stories in 2009 include:

  • In May, UW-Madison’s technology transfer arm, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), signed an agreement with Pfizer to license human embryonic stem (hES) cell patents for the development of new drug therapies. The WARF license provides Pfizer, a major biopharmaceutical company, with the rights to work with UW hES cells (developed by stem-cell pioneer Dr. James Thomson) for drug research and discovery.

    • Contact Janet Kelly, WARF, for more on this story: jkelly@warf.org 608.890.1491

  • Madison start-up Stemina Biomarker Discovery Inc. launched its first product, which uses human embryonic stem cells to screen drugs for their likelihood to cause birth defects, at the end of April. The launch came shortly after President Obama lifted restrictions on stem cell research, opening up opportunities in this industry segment.

  • Promega Corporation, a global provider of cell analysis tools, introduced a new system in February, designed to improve and simplify human cell line authentication in research applications. The new Stem Elite™ ID System allows scientists to quickly and easily validate the authenticity and purity of their human cell lines prior to submtting their results for publishing or passing the cell line to another laboratory—improving the overall quality of research results. Promega, which has over 500 employees in the Madison area, celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.

  • BioSentinel, a Madison start-up company, released a real-time detection test for deadly strains of botulinum toxins, targeted to defense and homeland security applications. The “BoTEst™” offers nearly a 300-fold increase in sensitivity compared to other botulinum neurotoxin assays on the market.

  • FluGen, another regional start-up, secured exclusive rights to a novel vaccine-delivery technology and made progress towards developing a safe, fast, and reliable way to produce flu vaccines. FluGen’s breakthrough technology grows vaccine viruses inside vats of cells instead of fertilized chicken eggs—the current approach, which is a cumbersome, expensive, and slow response to epidemic conditions.

    • CONTACT Paul Radspinner, President and CEO, for more on this story: 608-442-6561

  • Mithridion successfully completed Phase I of its human clinical trials and announced positive results for a novel drug designedto stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. This drug has the potential to improve both memory and cognition symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients, and would be a significant improvement over existing treatments.

    • CONTACT Trevor Twose, CEO, for more on this story: (608) 443-2432

  • Madison-based Roche NimbleGen and Sigma-Aldrich recently announced a collaboration to advance genomics research and drug development. The two companies will combine complementary platform technologies to study the entire genome to identify the specific DNA an protein interactions that regulate both normal cell growth and disease conditions. Understanding these regulatory pathways is critical for developing drugs that target these pathways. (Swiss pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. acquired Madison start-up NimbleGen in 2008 to create Roche NimbleGen.)

  • In 2008, Hoffmann-La Roche also acquired Mirus Bio Corporation and launched a division called Roche Madison Inc. In April 2009, Roche Madison opened a 24,000 square-foot-facility in University Research Park with a $7.2 million investment. The building contains labs for work with Roche’s global RNA Therapeutics group, which focuses on the discovery and development of innovative nucleic acid based technologies and treatments.

  • Stratatech Corporation, a privately-held regenerative medicine company, announced in March the availability of a new product, the StrataTest® human skin model. This tissue-engineered human-skin equivalent will provide a superior, cost effective skin model for consumer product, drug discovery and other toxicity testing applications-it enables better prediction of live responses. Stratatech is also developing a patented line of engineered skin tissue for the treatment of serious wounds and burns.

  • Gentel Bioscience, a nine-year-old privately held protein-array firm, launched assays for carbohydrate and protein biomarker profiling in February, and will debut a new high-throughput microarray platform called APIX this June. Gentel sells its research tools and services to biopharmaceutical companies developing new therapeutics.

  • The ambitious Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery construction project on the UW-Madison campus is on schedule for completion by December 2010. The completed project will house facilities for the public Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and the Morgridge Institute for Rsearch, a private non-profit organization. The complex will bring together technology research activities in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology, encouraging inter-disciplinary advances. In 2009 the Morgridge Institute engaged Sangtae Kim as its executive director.

The Madison region coalition at BIO 2009 will promote these and other accomplishments to alert biotech companies to opportunitis to establish operations here, and to alert biotech professionals of career opportunities in the Madison Region. Thrive, though a pilot grant program, is also sponsoring five Madison Region companies to participate in the Partnering sessions at BIO 2009, to make desired connections for strategic alliances, contract manufacturing, and technology licensing.

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