WisBusiness: $100 M in New Funding Jump-Starts UW-Madison Bioscience Institute

By Brian E. Clark

MADISON – The Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, a 16-month-old bioscience research program, took a big step toward reality today with the announcement of $100 million in new funding.

The new money includes a $50 million gift from two University of Wisconsin alumni.

The $50 million gift, from Wauwatosa natives and UW-Madison benefactors John and Tashia Morgridge, is the largest individual donation ever received by the university. The donation will be matched by $50 million from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

That $100 million, plus another $50 million previously approved by the State Building Commission, will pay for nearly half of the project – projected to cost roughly $375 million. University officials said the infusion of the Morgridge and WARF cash will lead to the creation of a collaborative research center that will rival similar centers on the east and west coasts.

Carl Gulbrandsen, WARF’s managing director, praised Gov. Jim Doyle for pushing the project, which he called an “investment in the future.

“There are no great private research centers in the center of the country,” he said. “This will be the best of public and private. WARF is proud to participate in this effort, which will help transfer scientific discoveries to the marketplace.”

Gulbrandsen said the gifts are contingent on the State Building Commission approving a land swap between WARF and UW-Madison, and on naming WARF as the project developer. The proposal will go to the commission on April 19.

The announcement comes less than a week before the start of a national biotech conference in Chicago, giving the university some good news to hype to the nation’s biotech movers and shakers. BIO 2006 is expected to draw more than 20,000 scientists and business people.

“UW-Wisconsin is a world-class research university,” said John Morgridge, chairman of Cisco Systems.

“But excellence is not guaranteed,” he said. “We hope this gift will ensure that position in years to come and spur new discovery, new knowledge and new jobs.

Doyle praised the gift and said he will soon seek more money from the Legislature to fund the rest of the project.

The governor – who unveiled the idea for the facility 16 months ago – said he hopes the advances produced by the twin institutes will boost Wisconsin’s economy by creating new products and technologies, startup firms and high-paying jobs. Doyle said he hopes that research coming from the institutes may one day help someone with a spinal cord injury walk again or lead to the cure of juvenile diabetes and other diseases.

Moreover, backers hope it will attract top scientists to the university and keep other big names – like famed stem cell researcher Jamie Thomson – in Wisconsin.

Tashia Morgridge, a retired special education teacher, said the institutes will be a center for innovative teaching and learning.

“University students will work not only in research teams, but K-12 students in special outreach programs that will help grow tomorrow’s scientists,” she said.

Two years ago, the couple gave $31 million to complete and renovate the university’s Education Building.

The money from the Morgridges will be used to fund the Morgridge Institute for Discovery, a private entity that will operate in tandem with the public Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and will be built on the 1300 block of University Avenue.

John Wiley, UW-Madison chancellor, said the Morgridge center will be more nimble and quicker to turn research breakthroughs into jobs than the public institution. In addition, because it will not have to comply with federal restrictions on stem cell lines, scientists will have more research freedom at the private institute.