MON AM News: mRNA vaccines built on decades of research; Marshfield Clinic Health System CEO offers dire outlook on rural care workforce

— Investments by industry and academia paved the way for the mRNA vaccines currently being used to protect people against COVID-19, according to WARF Therapeutics head Jon Young. 

“The comments I hear often are, these vaccines were rushed, these vaccines were not researched, and that is absolutely, patently untrue,” he said in a recent interview. 

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines rely on mRNA, or messenger RNA. Once inside the body, this material helps cells build immunity to the COVID-19 virus through the creation of antibodies. 

About 2.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 3.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been administered in Wisconsin. The Department of Health Services site shows 56.7 percent of the state’s population have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine, while 53.8 percent have completed the vaccine series. 

Young explained that the concept behind mRNA was being explored for decades in the scientific community as “the next cool way to solve disease, especially vaccines.” He said it took 20 years of research to figure out how to transform the idea into an applicable form, including significant investments in biology research and drug discovery. 

“If it wasn’t for that large investment, that 20 years of investment, we would not have been able to face down this pandemic with critical vaccines right now,” he said. “It all came together at the right time.” 

Drug discovery research continues through universities, pharmaceutical companies and other groups like WARF Therapeutics, with early-stage funding often provided by federal agencies including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Businesses and investors typically provide funding for drug development in its later stages. 

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation is UW-Madison’s patenting and licensing organization, and its therapeutics division employs “drug hunters” to seek new pharmaceutical candidates. 

“Basic discovery is the foundation of future medicines that are going to impact our families and our friends,” Young said. 

Listen to a recent podcast with Young and Hongmin Chen, WARF Therapeutics’ new head of biology: 

— Dr. Susan Turney, CEO of Marshfield Clinic Health System, expects the state’s rural health workforce shortage will only get worse in the coming years. 

“We do not have enough health care providers right now to manage our patient care, and I will tell you, it’s not going to get better. Because the pipeline is not there,” she said during the recent Wisconsin WOMEN Reception event hosted by the Wisconsin Technology Council in Madison. “We have a real crisis.” 

MCHS employs more than 1,200 care providers with locations primarily in the northern parts of the state. Turney said over 93 percent of people completing their training in medicine prefer to work in a community with over 50,000 people. Most of the health system’s facilities are in communities with fewer than 2,000 residents, making it difficult to bring in new hires.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue, Turney noted it’s not a new problem. She says academic centers “need to reinvent themselves” to address the worsening shortage. 

“I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this mess. We’re going to be short thousands of physicians in 20 years. Thousands. And you know what, over half the docs in the country right now are over 55,” she said. “They’re retiring. They’ve had it, with all the changes that have happened. They just emotionally cannot manage it anymore.” 

She praised the “innovative, creative and astounding” work being done by rural care providers in the face of worker shortages and other challenges, such as a lack of transportation infrastructure and broadband internet access. 

“Our staff are so committed. I mean, like not taking vacation days. We have 1,000 nurses that have not used their vacation days this year,” she said. 

— Along with the long-term challenge of filling positions in rural Wisconsin, Turney also highlighted the more immediate problems posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The health system’s service area covers counties with some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. She says the system has more patients hospitalized and on ventilators now than in the initial surge of the pandemic. 

She also explained the numbers of patients afflicted with the virus “are higher than reflected in the data” because the ability of providers to perform at-home care and monitoring has improved. 

“It’s still pretty bad in many parts of the country. And we’re not expecting our surge to peak for a month or two yet, into November, maybe even December,” she said. “I think there’s hope, and we’ve learned a lot … We still have a tough journey here. There’s no question about it.” 

Telemedicine options have helped MCHS keep up with patient demand during the pandemic. Before COVID-19 hit, about 1 percent of visits at the health system were done through telehealth. That number shot up to 35 percent during the previous peak, and she said “we’ve been able to keep a high level” of these services as the pandemic has continued. 

Telehealth represents a promising avenue for addressing rural shortages, she said, particularly certain types of care such as behavioral health. 

“It’s not going to cost more to use technology. You don’t need more people, you just need more service. So I think that that can make a huge, huge difference,” she said. 

— DotCom Therapy has announced a new partnership with Goodside Health, a national provider of in-school telemedicine, aimed at making teletherapy more accessible for students across the country. 

According to a release, the Madison-based tech company will provide pediatric teletherapy services and resources to extend Goodside Health’s current in-school telemedicine service offerings that primarily focus on physical health.

“Goodside Health’s technology is built by school technicians for school clinicians,” DotCom Therapy President Rachel Mack Robinson said in a statement. “Together, we provide increased access for students to address their mental health concerns with pediatric mental health resources from qualified professionals around the country.”

In addition, the company’s team of licensed therapists is now available to patients of Goodside Health, which is based in Texas. 

See more at Madison Startups: 

— Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu’s to-do list for the fall period includes tackling workforce issues and a sporting heritage package.

He’s just not ready to spill the details.

A hint of what could be in the workforce package emerged last week as GOP lawmakers began circulating legislation seeking to revamp the state’s unemployment insurance system to focus on getting people back to work.  

LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, suggested in a recent interview that the workforce package will include bills to reform the unemployment insurance program as well as licensing.

“Anything we can do to encourage people to work, to help provide them with that avenue I think is a good thing,” LeMahieu said.

The majority leader also expressed excitement about the sporting heritage package, but declined to share any hints of what it could include. He added the chamber will take up additional anti-abortion legislation after again voting last week to require health care professionals to provide care to an infant that is born after a failed abortion attempt. Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a similar bill two years ago.

See the full story in the Friday Report: 

— Foxconn says it will purchase a former GM plant in Ohio for electric vehicle production rather than using its Mount Pleasant site, according to a report from BizTimes Milwaukee. 

The company had considered Wisconsin as a potential location for producing electric vehicles through a partnership with Fisker, but says the Ohio facility’s existing assets would support a quicker path to market, the report shows. 

Still, a separate report from the Milwaukee Business Journal indicates the company hasn’t ruled out making electric vehicles in the state. 

See more in Foxconn Reports below. 

— The Department of Veterans Affairs is now accepting applications for the agency’s Entrepreneurship Grant program, which funds training and other services for veteran entrepreneurs in the state. 

The program awards nonprofit groups providing these services with grants up to $100,000 per recipient, with a focus on those working with “underserved veteran populations” or veterans living in underserved areas. 

Applications are being accepted through Nov. 1 at 4 p.m. 

See more in a release: 


# New trade deal with Taiwan will help struggling Wisconsin ginseng growers

# SBA program sends billions to Wisconsin businesses

# Wisconsin justices weigh challenge to swap of parkland



– USDA report shows state winter wheat up, oat production down

– Wisconsin’s all milk price falls to $17.40 in August


– Milwaukee County budget includes money for bus rapid transit route, little for deferred construction projects 


– Evictions in Wisconsin have increased since moratorium ended, and may get worse if rental assistance delays continue


– Federal financial aid applications from high school students drop significantly during pandemic


– Research looks to mitigate threats to black ash trees in Northern Wisconsin


– Foxconn picks Ohio plant over Wisconsin for initial electric vehicle production

– Foxconn tentatively agrees to produce electric vehicles in Ohio, doesn’t rule out Mount Pleasant


– Madison’s RehabPath paves way for mental health, addiction treatment options


– Six Ojibwe tribes seek expedited court order to cancel Wisconsin wolf hunt


– Marc Lasry resigns as Ozy Media chairman amid growing crisis at company


– Ripp joins WFBF as governmental relations director


– LKQ, Janesville’s only auto salvage operation, expands with major warehousing build out


– Wisconsin Supreme Court hears arguments over Kohler Co.-DNR land swap for proposed golf course


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