WisBusiness: Venture conference showcases state’s medical start-ups

By Brian E. Clark

MADISON – This week’s Wisconsin Life Sciences and Venture Conference will highlight the state’s emergence as a center for drug therapy start-ups.

"In one way or another, nearly all of the 21 presenting companies are connected to drug therapy," said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. Likewise, many of the speakers will touch on drug therapy development, he said. The conference will be held Tuesday and Wednesday at the Monona Terrace Nov. 16 and 17.

In addition, participants will get the chance to tour research facilities at UW-Madison, as part of a program called "Inside the Labs: Where Science Spawns Novel Therapies."

Still said the conference promises to be a biotechnology showcase featuring 21 companies. On the first day, they will try to convince venture capitalists that they are worthy of backing. The second day will highlight specific research projects that may someday be developed into therapies to cure diseases.

According to NorthStar Economics Inc., the 20-year-old conference is partly responsible for the state’s recent growth in biotechnology. In the conference’s first 10 years, according to the report, 8 percent of the presenting companies attracted investors. That rose to 21 percent in the last decade.

Nearly 200 companies have made at least one conference presentation through the years, with an increasing number from states outside Wisconsin.

The conference also reflects the increase in technology transfer from UW-Madison. A decade ago, only four presenters held WARF licenses, compared to 22 today.

Still said the second day will start with a keynote address by Mark Booth, president of Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America, Inc. of Lincolnshire, Illinois.

Still said he will discuss how the evolving needs of the health-care market influence the search for new therapies. Other speakers include Michael Sussman, director of the UW-Madison Biotechnology Center.

Still said the second day will feature companies creating new therapies for cancer, personalized medicine using gene patterns to predict and control disease, microsystems, stem cell research, and other health-related areas.

For more information on the conference, go to http://www.wisconsintechnologycouncil.com.