Forward Bio Initiative Launches with $750K Grant from WI Jobs Agency

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) said Thursday that it has awarded $750,000 in grant funding to help launch a new biomanufacturing collaboration that aims to promote technological innovation and job creation in the Badger State.

As Xconomy reported in August, the groups behind the collaboration—which they’re calling the Forward Bio Initiative—are seeking to assist academic researchers and business leaders with developing and commercializing drugs, medical devices, and other products for use in the healthcare and biotech industries. Company founders will also be able to get coaching on how to establish and ramp up manufacturing operations in Wisconsin, according to a website with information on the initiative.

BioForward, one of three organizations that have partnered to oversee the collaboration, will administer the WEDC grant, the agency said. As Wisconsin’s flagship life sciences advocacy and trade group, BioForward serves a growing “biohealth” sector in Wisconsin that encompasses 1,900 companies and their combined 44,000-plus employees, according to a news release.

In addition to BioForward, the other two “components” of the new initiative are the Forward Bio Institute (which is based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Forward BioLabs (which is not).

Bill Murphy, a professor at UW-Madison’s engineering school and UW’s medical school, will chair the initiative and direct the Forward Bio Institute. Murphy has helped spin several startups out of academic research over the years.

The institute, which is launching in parallel with the initiative, will help inventors and researchers at UW-Madison “translate biomanufacturing technologies into the private sector,” in part by forming partnerships that connect leaders in academia and industry, WEDC said.

Murphy says he expects the people involved with the Forward Bio Initiative to work with some of the existing organizations at UW-Madison that support inventors and technology transfer. One likely collaborator is the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, he says, which manages patents and the licensing of intellectual property for UW-Madison. Another is Discovery to Product, which helps students, faculty, and staff from all corners of the school’s campus turn ideas into companies.

Several UW-Madison schools and university-affiliated organizations are supporting the establishment of the Forward Bio Institute, according to the release. These supporters include the UW-Madison College of Engineering, the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, the UW School of Veterinary Medicine, and the Grainger Institute for Engineering.

Forward BioLabs, meanwhile, is a nonprofit organization that provides laboratory and office space to scientists and entrepreneurs. Co-founder Jessica Martin Eckerly, who is also vice-chair of the Forward Bio Initiative, will continue to lead Forward BioLabs. The nonprofit will operate an 8,700-square-foot facility in University Research Park, a university-affiliated office park located a couple of miles west of UW-Madison’s campus. Forward BioLabs’ lab space at the park will be able to accommodate up to 20 scientists, WEDC said.

Murphy says he does not know of any past programs UW-Madison has been involved with that directly resemble the Forward Bio Initiative.

“What makes this program unique is the emphasis on charting a path from invention all the way to broad dissemination, in the form of commercial products and new treatments for patients,” he says. “We are using a collaborative approach to support each stage in the process, from early-stage invention to startup company formation, and ultimately to broad impact on society.”

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