WisBusiness: Wisconsin sending smaller group to BIO International Convention

By Brian E. Clark

For WisBusiness.com

Wisconsin will be sending a significantly smaller contingent to this year’s BIO conference, which runs today through Thursday in Atlanta.

Last year, when the annual gathering of global biotech companies, researchers and leaders was held in San Diego, 54 Badger State companies and institutions attended. For 2009, that figure has fallen to 31.

Mickey Judkins, who is coordinating the state effort for the Wisconsin Commerce Department, said state spending is also down, dropping from more than $200,000 last year to an estimated $180,000 this year.

“It’s an international trend,” she said. “Companies and even countries are cutting back and sending fewer people.

“In these difficult economic times, we’ve found some efficiencies, but we still think it’s important that Wisconsin have a major presence there because biotech is vital to this state,” she said.

Judkins said the biotech industry in the Badger State has doubled in size over the past eight years. There are now 400 companies with 30,000 employees doing $8 billion in business annually. She said Gov. Jim Doyle and Commerce Secretary Dick Leinenkugel both will attend the conference to meet with executives and talk up the state’s biotech prowess.

“This is the pre-eminent biotechnology show in the world,” said Judkins. “It is very important to create an awareness of the industry in Wisconsin, the research being done at UW-Madison and the commercialization happening because of WARF (Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation).”

Judkins said that with many pharmaceutical and other companies reducing their research and development departments, Wisconsin firms are hoping they can drum up work.

Devin McGlenn, CEO of Madison-based NeoClone Biotechnology International, said he and Randy Wagner, vice president for business development, are both headed to Atlanta for the conference.

He said his company is supporting the Wisconsin pavilion and will be meeting with clients, collaborators and service providers at the show.

“We’ll see more than 15 people to talk about doing work in the future and also meet with existing clients,” he said.

Laura Strong, president of Quintessence Biosciences, said she, too, will be in Atlanta. In her case, she’ll be “looking for strategic partners for our new cancer drug.”

Strong, who is also head of the Wisconsin trade group BioForward, said she also will be meeting with counterparts from other states to see how they are developing their biotech industries.

In addition, she said she plans to attend seminars on everything from how the current economic downturn is hampering biotechnology growth to how new laws and regulations are affecting her industry.

Tom Still, head of the Wisconsin Technology Council, said John Wiley, former UW-Madison chancellor and now head of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, will be attending the conference. So will Sangtae Kim, executive director of the Morgridge Institute for Research, the private half of WID.

“In this down time, I’m pleased that Wisconsin will be maintaining at presence at BIO,” Still said. “Some companies and some states are not showing up at all.

“In the short term, that may save them some money, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the long run,” he said.

Still said BIO 2010 will be held in Chicago.

“Certainly Wisconsin will have a large presence there,” he said. “We may not have the same size of pavilion, but a lot of the real work takes place elsewhere anyway.”