WisBusiness: Norwegian Stem Cell Company Ready for Move to Madison

By Brian E. Clark

MADISON – Yet another stem cell company is coming to town.

Dag Dvergsten, president of the Norwegian biotech firm CellCura, announced Friday at University Research Park that his company will set up shop in Madison with three to five employees early in 2007.

Dvergsten was introduced by Gov. Jim Doyle, who said he hoped the results of the recent gubernatorial election had ended debate in Wisconsin over support for stem cell research. Doyle’s opponent, U.S. Rep. Mark Green, had opposed the public funding of some stem cell studies.

Doyle said he hopes the work of Wisconsin scientists will lead to the creation of more companies in Wisconsin, but also to the cure of diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and juvenile diabetes.

The governor said the U.S. stem cell market could grow to $10 billion in a decade and create 10,000 high-paying jobs. He said he hopes Wisconsin can capture at least 10 percent of the market by 2015. To do that, however, he said the state must invest in its universities to reach the “pinnacle” of stem cell and other research.

Though Dvergsten could have chosen other cities on the east or west coasts, he said he picked Madison because of researchers at UW-Madison, including stem cell pioneer James Thomson.

“We wanted to be close to the cradle of stem cell research,” he said. “And the cradle is here. We hope to foster even more commercial growth.”

Nor did it hurt that Dvergsten’s mother is a native of Pewaukee. Dvergsten said she met his father at the University of Chicago in 1949 and moved with him to Norway. Dvergsten’s ties run even deeper. His great, great grandfather was mayor of Milwaukee in the late 1800s.

“Madison is the capital of stem cell research,” he said. “I looked in a number of other places a few years back, but the university, research park, WiCell, WARF, the state Commerce Department and the governor’s office were all very welcoming.”

Tom Loftus, a member of the UW Board of Regents and former ambassador to Norway, met Dvergsten during his time in Scandinavia. He urged him to consider Wisconsin as a place to expand his company. Dvergsten said the products his company creates in Madison will be sold to stem cell researchers all over the world. He said the next country in which he hopes to establish an office is India.

“We hope that the software, hardware and other media we will produce will make research companies’ work safer, more productive and more measurable,” he said.

Though the state has given grants and loans to Thomson, who has set up two stem cell research companies. Dvergsten his company has received no public funding.

“Our decision was based solely on the expertise and knowledge that is here,” he said.

Carl Gulbrandsen, director of WARF and the WiCell Research Insitute, also welcomed Dvergsten to Madison.

“This move demonstates the value of Wisconsin’s leadership in human embryonic stem cell research,” he said. “We look forward to a partnership that will benefit CellCura and the entire Madison community.”

Wisconsin currently has a biotechnology workforce of 22,000 that generates about $7 billion for the Wisconsin economy, according to the governor’s office. James Leonhart, executive vice president of the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association, said he believes a critical mass is being created around stem cells.

“I’ve heard that WARF is talking to a number of other companies about locating here,” he said. “If that’s the case, our association is certainly interested in helping them get established.”