Wisconsin’s Biotech Industry Making a Global Impact

Wisconsin’s Biotech Industry Making a Global Impact

As a leading provider of 3D, ready-to-use human engineered tissues, Madison-based InvivoSciences has products and capabilities that are of interest to a global audience.

Reaching that audience is one of the many reasons Wisconsin biotechnology leaders and company representatives made their way to Boston in June for the 20th annual BIO International Convention.

Their presence was not left unnoticed, as by the end of the convention the Wisconsin biotechnology industry had taken its fair share of the global spotlight.

Small business has big showing

InvivoSciences was able to send out more than 250 requests for meetings and received a high response rate, but they were unable to accommodate all of the requests. “As a small company we could not send all of our employees to the convention,” says InvivoSciences Co-Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer Ayla Annac.

However, just as he does in the lab, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Tetsuro Wakatsuki made the most of his time. He met with close to a dozen pharmaceutical companies and several biotech companies, investors and universities, in addition to gaining invaluable face-to-face interaction with potential new customers.

As a result of these meetings, Dr. Wakatsuki is visiting several pharmaceutical companies in Japan, and says one will visit their Madison facility this month.

Dr. Wakatsuki was also a featured presenter at the Wisconsin Pavilion, sharing how his team provides services for major pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies through engineered, tissue-based content analysis. This technology won a bronze medal at the 2012 Edison Awards, one of the highest accolades a company can receive in the industry.

The benefits of state support

Attending a four-day conference in Boston can be quite costly for small businesses. To alleviate some of the financial burden, BioForward, a member-driven state association that is the voice of Wisconsin’s bioscience industry, and WEDC offered multiple scholarships.

InvivoSciences was one of eight companies to receive scholarships. According to BioForward Executive Director Bryan Renk, recipient companies participated in more than 300 partnering events.

Annac believes InvivoSciences would not receive nearly as much attention without the state. “We brought the company here because Wisconsin has a rich biotech and entrepreneurship understanding,” she says. “WEDC and the former Department of Commerce encourage this type of critical technologies that contribute strongly to the economic development of the state. We came to Wisconsin to be part of the biotech hub they support.”

That sentiment was reinforced by the annual Battelle/BIO State Bioscience Industry Development Report findings. According to the report released during BIO, Wisconsin’s biotechnology industry is one of the healthiest in the nation and grew faster than any other Midwest state during the recession.

The report also showed in 2010 that Wisconsin bioscience workers’ average wages ranged from $54,822 in agricultural feedstock and chemicals to $79,409 in the medical devices and equipment sector. During the same time, the average wages for Wisconsin private sector employees were $36,796.

Another measure of success is the relatively high percentage—nine percent in 2011—of U.S. clinical trials held here. Renk says that amount of clinical trials has a very positive economic impact on the state.

Research a key ingredient

Another BIO attendee, the Morgridge Institute for Research, came for another reason. The private, nonprofit interdisciplinary biomedical research organization is associated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and came to promote the state’s research capabilities. It partnered with Cisco Systems to conduct life-sized, face-to-face video conference meetings between researchers on campus in Madison and convention attendees.

For a relatively new biomedical institute like Morgridge, BIO provided a great opportunity to get the word out about the world-class technology being developed in the state.

“We used the convention to highlight how our medical devices group is helping to solve a national crisis in the supply of a life-saving isotope,” says Zack Robbins, associate director of development for the Morgridge Institute. “We’re partnering with Wisconsin high-tech startup SHINE Medical Technologies to supply this medical isotope to hospitals across the U.S.”

SHINE is building a new plant in Janesville, Wis., that is expected to generate more than 100 new jobs. 

“Wisconsin’s research and technologies have really changed the world,” adds Robbins. “In addition to cheese, beer and the Packers, Wisconsin is the source of many critical biotech advances from stem cell science to vitamin D to medical imaging.”

When the 2012 BIO International Convention ended, Wisconsin organizations set their sights on next year’s convention, to be held in Chicago. InvivoSciences’ Annac believes Wisconsin will have a “larger, more forceful presence” at BIO 2013, something echoed by many state leaders.


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