WisBusiness: Biomedical collaborative efforts could boost Madison-area economy

By Brian E. Clark

The University of Wisconsin, St. Mary’s and Meriter hospitals
compete on some fronts and cooperate on many others. And all three have
embarked recently on major building efforts that will dramatically boost
research and patient care.

On Tuesday, at a Wisconsin Innovation luncheon, leaders of the
three institutions pledged to leverage their collective resources to help
turn the Madison area into a biomedical powerhouse.

The trio – Donna Sollenberger, UW Hospital and Clinics CEO; Frank Byrne, president of St. Mary’s Hospital; and Terri Potter,
president and CEO of Meriter Hospital and Health Services – head the
region’s relatively new Biomedical Collaborative.

Sollenberger said she would like to see new companies repeat the
success of TomoTherapy, which makes machines that target and treat
cancers with radiation.

Because of severe space limitations, Sollenberger noted wryly, medical
physicist Rock Mackey built TomoTherapy’s first prototype in an Oregon
grain silo. It now employs 175 people in its Middleton headquarters and
has annual sales of $45 million from machines that are used by medical
centers around the country.

Madison, Fitchburg and Middleton already have a cluster of biotech
companies, but the hospital leaders said there is great potential to
spawn and attract many more to the area because of the university’s
reputation and Dane County’s high quality of life.

To do this, they said, the hospitals, existing firms and the regions
cities are working to brand the area to create higher national name

If they are successful, they said Madison could repeat the efforts of
Houston, which is famed around the world as a heart treatment center –
thanks in large part to the work of transplant surgeon Michael DeBakey,

The UW is already well-known in the medical community for its
research efforts, she said. But the collaborative wants to boost
Madison’s profile and turn it into an international destination for
researchers, clinicians, investors and health science managers.

“I had never been to Madison before I moved here,” said
Sollenberger, who has been at the UW for six years. “But I was struck by
the depth and quality of the research and care here.”

St. Mary’s Byrne, who came from Indiana last year, said Madison
could copy Hoosier efforts to create a public-private alliance of
manufacturers, suppliers, schools and service providers to promote area
bioscience companies and research.

Meriter’s Potter said the Madison area is well-positioned to thrive in
what he called the coming “bioeconomy” if it can continue to turn
technological breakthroughs into job-producing companies.

“We’re at a crucial stage now where we can grow our biomedical economy,”
said Potter, who heads the collaborative effort.

“We already have a lot here, but we haven’t connected the dots,” he
said. “If we can do that, the potential is immense.”