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WisBusiness: State boosts biotech to compete with California

Gov. Jim Doyle on Wednesday laid out plans to invest $375 million of state and private money in a new Wisconsin Institute for Discovery on the UW-Madison campus. The building proposal was part of a broader announcement on moves to bolster the state's standing in the fields of biotechnology, health sciences, and stem cell research.

The institute would be built in three phases over the next decade. Researchers such as Dr. James Thomson, who first isolated human embryonic stem cells in 1998, would work at the institute.

"This will make a big difference in how science is practiced. It is appreciated by the research community here and shows Wisconsin's committment," Thomson said. "My colleagues and I are pleased."

"Stem cells are just one part of regenerative cures," said Doyle, who spoke in a crowded lab filled with test tubes and beakers. "But they are an important part. This bold effort will not just keep the great scientists we have, but attract others."

Doyle's initiative is a direct response to the Nov. 2 passage in California of Prop. 71, which will pump $3 billion into stem cell research over 10 years. Many had feared it would lead to an exodus of researchers from around the country to the Golden State.

"I can't understand opposition to embryonic stem cell research on moral grounds. It is too valuable a tool to not pursue. We will move ahead boldly while following the rules and regulations," Doyle said.

The governor's proposal will require some cooperation from the Legislature, but the governor was confident.

"I anticipate no legislative difficulties in getting this project approved. It is good for the state and investment that will pay for itself down the road."

The move was greeted with praise by Jim Leonhart, executive vice president of the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Associaton.

"California’s Prop. 71 deserved a forceful reply and it just got one," said Leonhart.

"This will be a creative way to build on what we already have with new research that we hope will lead to new companies and new jobs that are a critical part of the new Wisconsin economy," he said.

Doyle also talked about another resource available to Wisconsin - about $105 million as a result of the public sale of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin. Those funds will be used by the UW-Madison and the Medical College of Wisconsin to support public health, medical education, and research, including stem cell research. UW-Madison expects to spend about $75 million, and the Medical College expects to spend about $30 million over the next five years.

See an earlier WisBusiness story on the Blue Cross Blue Shield fund.

--By Brian E. Clark

Building Commission approves two biotech buildings

It was nearly standing-room Wednesday morning when the Higher Education Subcommittee of the State Building Commission heard from representatives from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical School regarding major building projects said to guarantee the state job creation and economic development and sustain a skilled workforce.

Approved with unanimous consent was the release of $25 million in general fund-supported borrowing for a construction grant to assist with the development of the Medical College’s Biomedical and Research Technology Incubator Facility, estimated to cost about $132 million. T. Michael Bolger, the CEO and director of the Milwaukee college, said the incubator will be a shared research medical facility used by the college and the Children’s Hospital -- which is providing $40 million for the project. Federal funding also is being used. Bolger said it would be the 8th largest academic medical center in the country.

Also unanimously approved was the design report and authority to construct the Healthstar Interdisciplinary Research Complex near the University Hospital and Clinics facility on the Madison campus. This is a $133.9 million project, designed to replace outdated facilities and to unify the UW-Madison Medical School. Associate Vice Chancellor Alan Fish said the approval is contingent on the raising of additional funds, which he anticipates will not be a problem. The project includes laboratory facilities, offices, an imaging center and animal quarters. The project is to be funded with $110.5 million in gifts and grants and about $23.4 million in general fund-supported borrowing.

The full building commission approved both projects later in the day.

-- By Joanne M. Haas



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