UW-Madison Engineering Prof to Co-Lead New Biomanufacturing Initiative

The University of Wisconsin-Madison said Wednesday that Bill Murphy, an engineering professor at the school who has also helped launch several startup companies, will co-lead a new biomanufacturing collaboration that will seek to promote technological innovation and job creation across the state.

The collaboration, called the Forward Bio Initiative, will kick off in the fall, UW-Madison said. It will concentrate on helping academic researchers and businesses leaders develop and commercialize medical devices, drugs, and other products for use in the healthcare and life sciences industries.

Company founders will also be able to get assistance with establishing and expanding manufacturing operations in Wisconsin, according to a website with information on the initiative.

Three organizations have partnered to oversee the initiative:

—Forward Bio Institute: a new organization housed within UW-Madison that supports ideation and “innovation in biomanufacturing research, entrepreneurship, and workforce development.” Murphy will serve as the institute’s director.

Forward BioLabs: shared life sciences laboratory and office space that can accommodate up to 15 early stage businesses, according to the Wisconsin Technology Council. Unlike Forward Bio Institute, Forward BioLabs does not have a direct affiliation with UW-Madison. Jessica Martin Eckerly leads Forward BioLabs.

BioForward: Wisconsin’s flagship life sciences advocacy and trade group.

The initiative’s website indicates that the three partners will mainly work with companies (or potential future companies) at different stages of maturity. Forward Bio Institute will advise researchers who are seeking to commercialize inventions or ideas, but have yet to establish a corporate entity or detailed business plan. Forward BioLabs will provide mentorship to company founders, as well as physical space and lab equipment, as they develop product prototypes. And BioForward assists with government and industry relations, marketing, and working with entrepreneurs to turn small businesses into larger ones.

In a phone interview, BioForward CEO Lisa Johnson said that once the new institute and initiative launch, startups won’t strictly follow a linear progression from one partner organization to the next. BioForward’s members range in size from startups with only a handful of employees to corporations with thousands of workers. Johnson says it’s likely BioForward will work with some of the early stage businesses being incubated in Forward BioLabs, for example.

Murphy is a professor of biomedical engineering at UW-Madison and a professor in orthopedics and rehabilitation at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. In addition to his teaching duties and the research projects he oversees in his campus lab, Murphy has helped spin several companies out of academic research. He’s one of the co-founders of Madison-based Stem Pharm, which launched in 2015 and is developing biomaterials capable of supporting stem cells as they grow.

Murphy is also a co-founder of two companies based outside of Wisconsin. One is Tissue Regeneration Systems, a Plymouth, MI-based startup seeking to commercialize medical devices to aid in skeletal reconstruction and bone regeneration. The other is Dianomi Therapeutics, a company based in the Denver area that’s developing drug delivery technology for treating rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

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