Biotech firms seek strength in numbers
Group holds first gathering since name, leadership change
By Kathleen Gallagher of the Journal Sentinel
Aug. 22, 2010 |(0) Comments
The organization that represents Wisconsin's biotech industry will hold its first annual conference Wednesday since changing its name and hiring a new leader.
BioForward, previously known as the Wisconsin Biotech and Medical Device Association, expects about 300 biotech industry executives to attend the conference Wednesday at the Madison Marriott West.
BioForward's major pushes are to enhance member services and to broaden the organization's membership to include more agriculture and energy companies, said Bryan Renk, who became BioForward's executive director in October.
"If we can't add value to Wisconsin's biotech industry, either we're not doing our job or we're not doing it the right way," Renk said.
The conference will include a keynote speech from Jim Greenwood, president and chief executive of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. The conference will also include discussions about personalized health care, biofuels, funding opportunities and other topics.
It will also feature one-on-one partnering meetings between industry executives and big biotech and pharmaceutical companies, as well as representatives from Manitoba, Canada.
Manitoba and Wisconsin signed an economic cooperation agreement in October 2009, and Manitoba has been looking to develop more partnerships with state companies and institutions.
The conference comes at a challenging time for the biotech industry: It is grappling with a leaner, more aggressive venture capital community. Backlogs clog the U.S. patent office. The Food and Drug Administration's pace of regulation remains an issue, as does its handling of rapidly emerging technologies like DNA sequencing. And Congress has yet to reauthorize funding for the Small Business Innovation Research grants that start-ups in the biotech industry rely on to grow.
Many of those challenges present opportunities as well, said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.
"Wisconsin's biotech industry continues to be a bright spot in terms of company creation and job creation," Still said.
Wisconsin increased the number of biotech industry jobs in the state by 15.8% from 2001 through 2008, on par with averages for biotech industry growth nationally, according to the Battelle/BIO State Bioscience Initiatives 2010 report, which was released in May by the consulting firm Battelle and the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
Total private sector jobs in Wisconsin increased by 2.1% during the same period, compared with 3.5% nationally, the report says.
There are about 400 biotech companies in Wisconsin, Renk said. BioForward has 270 members, half of them companies and the other half service providers, financiers and others, he said.
Among the agricultural and energy companies that have joined the organization in the past year are General Mills Inc., Monsanto Co. and Virent Energy Systems Inc., Renk said.
BioForward has also added Kathy Collins to its staff. Collins, former technology development consultant and finance manager at the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, will bolster BioForward's efforts to work with early-stage entrepreneurs and help them develop collaborative partnerships earlier with bigger companies, Renk said.
Also during the past year, BioForward has formalized and strengthened its lobbying efforts and is working on a study of the economic impact of state biotech companies and a compensation survey, he said.