Collaboration is key for biomanufacturing, panel says

Wisconsin industry leaders need to collaborate more if the state wants to become a national hub for biomanufacturing, a panel of experts agreed.

The panel, speaking at the annual BioHealth Summit in Madison this week, said making Wisconsin a “biomanufacturing center of excellence” requires deeper cooperation between diverse sectors, such as biology, engineering and IT.

“Connect to people that you think can help each other,” said Tom Foti, president and general manager of Aldevron, a provider of biologicals. “Little by little, we can create the foundation for a great place here.”

The challenge, though, is ensuring the state maintains a top level of talent — and that it’s able to attract big money to fund research and startup companies.

Through places like UW-Madison, the grant money flowing into Wisconsin is among the highest in the country, said William Murphy, co-director of UW-Madison’s Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center.

“We can do this because Wisconsin is in a special, special circumstance,” said Murphy. “There isn’t a place in the United States that has more of the ingredients needed to become the next big hub of biomanufacturing that Wisconsin does, and that includes places like California and Boston.”

Murphy emphasized the importance of long-term vision in the process of obtaining funding for grant proposals from federal agencies.

“It’s a daunting task, it’s sort of a fool’s errand for 90 percent of the people that are applying,” said Murphy. “But we weren’t in that 90 percent.”

According to him, the reason for the success of UW-Madison’s proposals is the network of labs and companies that can work together quickly to get leadership across the state involved.

Matt Jennings, CEO of Phillips-Medisize, pointed to collaboration between his company and the UW System, as well as the importance of connecting with big businesses.

“We focus on the significant few,” said Jennings. “The big names are the ones that are looking for the breadth and depth of services that we put together. As a result, we bring in the big league to the state.”

The panel was concluded with a challenge to the audience, to make the decisions and forge the connections that are necessary to turn this dream of Wisconsin as a biotech mecca into a reality.

“The time is now, everything is moving so quickly,” said Lisa Johnson, president of BioForward. “Let’s get it done.”

–By Alex Moe