REDI Committee

REDI Committee

Union South – Northwoods Room

Thurs. Feb. 10, 2022

8:45 a.m.

Good morning.  Thank you for inviting us today, and for organizing this three-part series to give us a chance to showcase some of the ways in which UW–Madison’s biomedical research is changing lives here in Wisconsin and beyond.

A couple of years ago, we held an alumni gathering in D.C. and as we shared a few examples of our research, one of our alums raised her hand and told the story of her heartbreaking decision to quit teaching after she developed a tremor in her hands that made it very difficult for her to write.  But then she learned that UW scientists were using Botox to treat tremors.  She came to us, and the treatments changed her life and made it possible for her to keep doing the job she loved.

This the type of human story behind the numbers we often share about research dollars … numbers of grants … and numbers of patents.

Of course, these metrics are important — they let us know if we’re moving in the right direction to continue to grow our work.

When I arrived here nine years ago, research expenditures were declining.  We’ve focused on turning that around, and I am happy to tell you that, in the last nine years, our research expenditures grew by about 17%.

During the pandemic, our research continued to grow.  Last year we spent $1.4B on research, while increasing our awards by $200M.

As you will hear me tell the full Board this afternoon, one of the reasons for this growth is a much more strategic approach to going after funding in key areas of interest.

Biomedical technology is one of our most important areas at UW-Madison.  We have a history that goes back more than a century to life-saving discoveries about vitamins A and B, and today we’re a biotech powerhouse.

Because of this, we’re a “hot” school for biomedical education.

  • We just graduated the first 500 students from the Master’s in Applied Biotechnology degree we launched two years ago.
  • And last year, we opened a new Bioinformatics Certificate Program that is already very popular.

Our strength in biotech is also driving Wisconsin’s reputation as a magnet for biotech companies.  There are now more than 1,700 biohealth companies across the state that employ nearly 50,000 people.

You are about to hear from two of the people who are helping to make Wisconsin a magnet for this work:

  • Professor Michael Sussman who teaches Biochemistry and is part of a team developing a blood test for predicting colon cancer earlier and more effectively.
  • And Sara Pirnstill from Stratatech, which manufactures synthetic skin that has changed the way burn victims are treated, based on work by one of our faculty members. I had the opportunity to tour Stratatech with Gov. Evers in December, and the work happening there is remarkable.

Before Steve Ackerman introduces these two speakers, I have the pleasure of introducing the person who leads University Research Park, which has been nourishing UW research and helping us to bring innovations and discoveries out of the lab and into the marketplace for nearly 40 years.

Aaron Olver started in his role as Managing Director of University Research Park about one year after I came to UW.  As President as URP’s Board, I have had the opportunity to work closely with him, and I have been consistently impressed by his knowledge, creativity, and ability to get things done.

In the time we’ve worked together, URP’s assets have doubled in size, as the demand for more industry lab space grows in Madison.

When the pandemic hit, Aaron knew that many of URP’s 125 companies would be central to the response.  Companies like Flugen and Pan Genome began work on COVID vaccines … Flambeau Diagnostics brought us mobile testing labs.  And leaders like Exact Sciences became the backbone of PCR testing here in Wisconsin and well beyond.

At every step, Aaron had to make sure that the right protocols were in place to keep people safe and limit liability so that this vital work could continue.

I want to thank Aaron for his partnership, and I look forward to seeing URP’s continued growth and success.