A $750,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. announced today (Sept. 6) establishes the Forward BIO Initiative, a collaborative effort to make Wisconsin a recognized center of excellence for biomanufacturing.
The new initiative “leverages one of our key long-term strengths at UW, which is working at the crossroads where multiple disciplines connect,” UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank told state and university leaders at the MG&E Innovation Center in University Research Park.
“The Forward BIO Initiative will have everything it takes to amplify the impact of Wisconsin’s innovations in biomanufacturing,” said William Murphy, a professor of biomedical engineering and orthopedics at UW-Madison and a serial entrepreneur, who is chair of the Initiative.
Murphy defines biomanufacturing as “the use of advanced manufacturing approaches to create the next generation of healthcare products, such as cell therapy, engineered tissue, pharmaceuticals and medical devices.”
The Forward BIO Initiative will offer resources to efficiently translate innovations into commercial products in biomanufacturing. The Initiative comprises the Forward BIO Institute, based at UW-Madison; Forward BIOLABS, a nonprofit shared laboratory facility housed at University Research Park; and BioForward Wisconsin, which will facilitate partnerships between government, academia and private industry.
The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) has provided $200,000 of seed funding for Forward BIOLABS.
The Forward BIO Institute will catalyze innovation in biomanufacturing research, entrepreneurship and workforce development, and act as a “catapult” that pushes groundbreaking technologies into the private sector.
The Forward BIO Institute is built on synergy, Murphy says. “We are a technology development and training entity. We want to not just develop next generation technologies, but to train the next generation of students that can lead technology development in industry.”
The institute will establish a new master’s degree program at UW-Madison in biomanufacturing innovation.
The UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, College of Engineering, School of Medicine and Public Health, and the Grainger Institute for Engineering will provide support for the Forward BIO Institute, including space and funds for technology development, and three new faculty hires in advanced biomanufacturing.
“It is interdisciplinary collaboration that most pushes the frontiers of science and sparks new ideas,” Blank said. “This is the best way to attack really complex problems, and it also happens to be a great way to create extraordinary learning opportunities for our undergraduates — the kinds of educational programs and internships that are only possible at a major research institution.”
“Forward BIO Initiative’s scope will be quite broad,” said Lisa Johnson, CEO of BioForward, “and that is part of what makes our approach unique. We want projects that address significant industry needs and have a path to broad dissemination. Whether it’s a life science product, a clinical trial or a medical device, we are interested in things that can get out to a broad patient population.”
The biomedical industry has been booming in Wisconsin, Johnson said, noting the group’s most recent study showed 36,000 employees and $27 billion in economic output in 2013.