FluGen: Tech Transfer in the Madison, Wisconsin Region

credit: UW Communications

Kawaoka. credit: UW Communications

I first became acquainted with the work of Dr. Yoshihiro (Yoshi) Kawaoka at a 2006 CEO Summit held at the University Wisconsin-Madison hosted by UW Alumni John Morgridge. This unique forum was designed for leading Madison Region executives who shared a common experience—being UW Madison alumni. UW Madison, which ties with Harvard for CEO production, was hosting this event to profile recent cutting-edge research (showcased that day by Dr. Kawaoka, Dr. James Thomson, of human embryonic stem cell fame, and Paul Barford, internet security researcher). Dr. Kawaoka impressed me as of course brilliant, cutting edge, and well-spoken enough to both frighten and reassure me about the nature of his research.

Dr. Kawaoka had, at the time, been researching influenza for at least 10 years as a member of the UW Madison School of Veterinary Medicine; soon after this summit, he was to take advantage of the infrastructure of the UW Madison and Madison Region to launch FluGen, an influenza product R&D business.  FluGen is a strong case study in not only top leading research happening at the UW Madison, but also of how the infrastructure of the region helps this R&D spinout into productive, leading global businesses that help heal, feed and fuel the world.

With Gabriele Neumann (UW Madison) and Paul Radspinner (former exec with Deltanoid Pharmaceuticals –Madison and Eli Lilly who assumed position as president and CEO of FluGen), Dr. Kawaoka and his team received exclusive influenza vaccine licensing rights from WARF in 2008 shortly following FluGen’s launch.  Working with the UW Madison’s Office of Corporate Relations, FluGen began travelling the Angel and Venture Capital circuit for funding. To-date, FluGen has received $2.2 million in angel funding and is currently raising an additional $3 million in bridge round funding.

“The combination of great UW science, extraordinary facilites at the University Research Park and the Waisman Biomanufacturing Center, expert assistance and support from OCR and WARF, and venture cpaital will help us to keep scientists like Dr. Kawaoka and their businesses here in Wisconsin,” said Radspinner in a 2008 interview.

In 2008, FluGen was awarded a nationally-innovative tax credit dubbed Act 255, Angel and Venture Fund Tax Credit programs. Act 255 offers Wisconsin income tax credits to angel investors and investors in seed-stage venture capital funds. Those who invest in the businesses are able to claim tax credits under the legislation originally enacted in 2004. Thrive was a key player in a 2009 statwide coalition that pushed to successfully expand these nationally-recognized credits.  FluGen will again benefit from these credits as it grows.

In 2008, UW Madison was awarded a $1.3 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for influenza research (team headed by Dr. Kawaoka); WARF and Maryland-based Lentigen Corp agreed to broadly disseminate the knowledge generate in this project to the scientific community, meaning that key pieces of the intellectual property created during the project would be donated by WARF to the international research community to improve human health across the globe.

Following a breakthrough by a team led by Drs. Kawaoka and Toko Watanabe in 2008 identifying the genes that enabled the deadly 1918 Spanish Influenza (responsible for killing between 20 and 50 million people), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the UW Madison a five-year, $9.5 million grant to identify virus mutations that would serve as early warnings of potential pandemic influenza viruses. Dr. Kawaoka was the principal investigator on the international team, charged with detecting an early warning system for pandemic viruses.

From L-R: Paul Radspinner (president-CEO), Yoshi Kawaoka (co-founder), Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Gabi Neumann (co-founder), Pamuk Bilsel (VP R&D) and Daryl Buss (Dean of UW Veterinary Medicine).

From L-R: Paul Radspinner (president-CEO), Yoshi Kawaoka (co-founder), Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Gabi Neumann (co-founder), Pamuk Bilsel (VP R&D) and Daryl Buss (Dean of UW Veterinary Medicine).

In the meantime, FluGen was developing its product pipeline, and in March 2009 announced that it had secured exclusive rights to a novel, patent-protected vaccine-delivery technology developed by Madison, Wisconsin-based Ratio, Inc. FluGen is in pre-clinical testing of this device and expects in the first quarter of next year to submit an investigational new drug application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval to enter Phase I clinical trials by mid 2011.


Brief history of the recent work of Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka: Joint appointment UW Madison (virologist, UW Madison School of Veterinary Medicine) and University of Tokyo; internationally-recognized expert on influenza research.

  • 1997: Dr. Kawaoka conducts detailed surveillance on Hong Kong Flu
  • 1999: Dr. Kawaoka and his team create the first artificial flu virus
  • 2005: Dr. Kawaoka studies a Vietnamese girl’s resistance to Tamiflu; begins production of a new technology to speed bird flu vaccine production
  • 2006: Dr. Kawaoka and team begin researching how flu viruses replicate
  • 2007: Dr. Kawaoka and team identify key steps in viral bird flu spread in humans
  • 2007: Dr. Kawaoka, Dr. Gabriele Neumann and Paul Radspinner, CEO, incorporate FluGen (Madison, Wisconsin)
  • 2007: FluGen secures $2.2 million in seed funding
  • 2008: WARF licenses flu vaccine and antiviral technology to FluGen
  • 2008: FluGen receives innovate Act 255 tax credits
  • 2008: Dr. Kawaoka and team identify lethal 1918 Spanish Flu genes
  • 2009: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awards UW Madison $1.3 million for flu research
  • 2009: FluGen secures exclusive rights to innovative vaccine delivery device
  • 2009: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awards UW Madison $9.5 million for flu research; principal investigator, Dr. Kawaoka

Jennifer Smith, Thrive

jsmith@thrivehere.org | http://www.thrivehere.org | Twitter @thrivehere
Thrive is the economic development enterprise for the eight-county Madison Wisconsin Region.


Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery: Changing ‘Humankind’

The Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery facility is possibly the most-watched building project in the Madison Region today. This unique public-private  venture between the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), designed with a vision “to change the state of humankind,” truly seems to be “… unlike anything ever built before, [creating] an environment for things to happen that have never happened before. ….”), as the brochure states. After a tour of the building and learning more about the philosophy behind it, I have to agree.

This radical public-private venture was funded by a private donation from UW alumni John and Tashia Morgridge, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and the State of Wisconsin, envisioned from its conception to be a central magnet for interdisciplinary research—a building that facilitates the “aha!” moment of discovery and takes it to  commercialization to advance human health.

A little about the building itself, because the design of the building is itself a unique, assertive approach to form follows function. The building is located in a square block in the center of the UW Madison campus, between the buildings for biochem, genetics/biotech, engineering, computer sciences, physics, medical sciences and chemistry; close proximity to the Waisman Center, medical school, pharmacy school, veterinary school, social sciences and arts/humanities buildings. Directly across from the southern student union, the building has five central entrances—no back door—to facilitate public access. WARF Director of Programming Laura Heisler stresses throughout our tour the many ways the building is designed to encourage public access and use.  The building hosts meeting space, an “ultra flex” center forum with movable walls to accommodate 50-250, meeting areas, common areas, and four distinct eateries hosting local food in formats from coffee and pastry to full restaurant (each one named after a star in the WARF pantheon). Straight halls are non-existent, the whole building is fully wired, and a collaboration with the UW Botany department has built the only indoor year-round “dinosaur garden”, complete with the closest relatives to Mesozoic-era plants, to show the kids. There are learning labs and rotating demonstrations built in to engage public and private alike: Like the meal you ate? Learn more about the science of food next to the restaurant. Need a place to take your kids on a Saturday? Why not engage them in demos with a real microscope at one of the Discovery Niches talking about the discoveries happening right upstairs. There are outdoor areas for seating, hanging out, learning—and events like community discussions and lectures; even bands are planned. Common areas with inviting names—the Living Room, the Forum—form the foundation of the building, while the second through fifth floors are security-accessed wet- and dry- lab spaces in a unique formation that (of course) facilitates the scientific collaboration across disciplines.

Each upper floor is arranged in a combination of public and private space, with common “draw” spaces housed between changeable lab space, dining areas, embedded teaching labs, seminar rooms, and research assistant spaces flanking “research pods”. What struck me as I toured the building is that the design is as open as it possibly can be, protecting research privacy needs while accomodating cross pollination between public and private research and multidisciplinary research efforts.  The space is set up to transcend disciplinary boundaries and facilitate research across the fields of chemistry, biology, IT, anthropology, computing, engineering, medical and biotechnology.

Add to all this a heavy-hitting goal of sustainability, reaching for (and exceeding, if projections are true) 50% less energy and water use than the next newest research facility on campus (10 years old now). Solar energy, geothermal energy, recycled water from wet lab space, and four eco-zones at each corner of the building reduce the building’s energy footprint.

The overarching goal of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery was described to me like this, several months before I took my tour: “You know when you’re working on something, and maybe you take a lunch break and meet a colleague; you share what you’re working on, that sometimes that leads to that ‘AHA!’ moment—you realize that what you’re both working on could lead to something stronger, bigger, better, for big commercial potential, to benefit humankind?  This building is designed to facilitate that moment.”

Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (public institute) Research Teams, 2010:

  • Patricia Flatley Brennan, professor of nursing and industrial and systems engineering (living environments lab)
  • John Denu, professor of biomolecular chemistry (epigentics lab)
  • Lih-Sheng Turng, professor of mechanical engineering (tissue-engineering scaffold research)
  • Michael Ferris, professor of computer science (optimization in biology and medicine)
  • John Yin, professor of Chemical and Biiological Engineering (systems biology)

Interim Director: UW Madison Chancellor Emeritus John Wiley

Grand opening is in May 2010, and is open to the public October, 2010. For more information, visit:  http://discovery.wisc.edu/discovery

Morgridge Research Teams, 2010:

  • Paul Ahlquist, professor of oncology (virology area)
  • Thomas “Rock” Mackie, professor of medical physics, co-founder of TomoTherapy (medical devices)
  • Susan Millar, anthropologist and senior scientist, Wisconsin Center of Education Resaerch (education research area)
  • Miron Livny, professor of computer sciences (core computational technology focus)
  • Nirupama “Rupa” Shevde, senior scientist, director of education and outreach, WiCell Resaerch Institute (Morgridge Outreach Experiences)
  • Sangtae Kim, Executive Director of the Morgridge Institute for Research (pharmaceutical informatics)
  • Jamie Thomson, Lead scientist, regenerative biology focus area

Executive Director: Dr. Sangtae Kim

Grand Opening December 2. For more information, visit: http://discovery.wisc.edu/morgridge/


Mentor Worldwide LLC’s donation of a $16 million manufacturing facility to the new Morgridge Institute for Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will help fuel the nonprofit’s mission of accelerating biomedical discoveries to delivery as treatments and cures. Read the whole story here.

Jennifer Smith, Thrive

jsmith@thrivehere.org | http://www.thrivehere.org |Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/@thrivehere
Thrive is the economic development enterprise for the 8-county Madison Wisconsin Region.

WARF: A Model of Technology Transfer Partnership

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) is the oldest technology transfer office in the United States, founded to manage a University of Wisconsin-Madison discovery that eventually eliminated the childhood disease rickets. WARF works with business and industry to transform university research into real products benefiting society at large—the Wisconsin Idea in action (see “Wisconsin Thrives“).

Over the years, the foundation has developed a model of technology transfer based on partnership with the UW-Madison and industry, an approach that today makes it one of the most successful long-term benefactors of technological innovation and public welfare in the country.

WARF played a fundamental role in the passage of the Bayh-Dole Act, giving U.S. universities and small businesses the right to own their own federally funded IP and allowing them to license that technology for commercial development.

The mission of this private, non-profit organization is to support scientific research at the UW-Madison, patenting inventions that come out of university research, licensing those technologies to companies for commercialization, and returning the licensing income to the UW-Madison to support further scientific endeavor.  Since making its first grant of $1,200 in 1928, WARF has contributed more than $915 million dollars to the UW-Madison, including monies to fund research, build facilities, purchase lands and equipment, and support a bevy of faculty and graduate student fellowships each year. Each year, WARF contributes over $45 million to fund additional UW Madison research.

Cool facts and hard numbers about WARF:

  • Manages over 800 pending and over 1,000 issued U.S. patents on UW-Madison technologies, as well as more than 2,000 international equivalents
  • Offers more than 1,000 technologies for licensing
  • Maintains more than 500 active commercial license agreements
  • Has completed over 30% of its license agreements with Wisconsin companies
  • Holds equity in 40 UW-Madison spin-off companies

Jennifer Smith, Thrive

jsmith@thrivehere.orgwww.thrivehere.org | Twitter: www.twitter.com/thrivehere
Thrive is the economic development enterprise for the 8-county Madison Wisconsin Region.

PatentlyBIOtech Series: Wisconsin Thrives

Thrive, the economic development enterprise for the eight-county Madison Region in Wisconsin, is guest blogging for PatentlyBIOtech up until the 2010 BIO International Convention, where the Wisconsin Technology Council, Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiative, and the Wisconsin Department of Commerce will showcase their work on the Exhibition Floor (link to floor plan search). BIO supports innovation from the ground up, starting at the local level with both the academic and business communities working collaboratively.

Thanks to Thrive, PatentlyBIOtech readers can get a glimpse of what a successful biotech community looks like. Many states are currently catching up to establishing policies that Wisconsin initiated in the Wisconsin Idea:

For a state that many might find hard to immediately locate on a U.S. map, Wisconsin is amazingly (and perhaps surprisingly) progressive. We’ve long been known as innovators and strong proprietors of creative, intellectual capital—home of the first kindergarten in the U.S., for example, home to the first tech transfer office in the nation and home to the UW-Madison (second in the nation in R&D funding in the nation after Harvard and MIT combined).

We are also, importantly, home to the Wisconsin Idea, the notion that the knowledge and discoveries engendered at the university must reach the borders of the state to help its citizens broadly. The Wisconsin Idea is the principle that education should influence and improve people’s lives beyond the university classroom—to the borders of the state.

This guiding principle has steered the university’s work for over 100 years across economic development, tech transfer, medical and scientific advances and continuing education for Wisconsin’s citizenry and for the world.

Wisconsin was already known for progressive politics when the Wisconsin Idea was first attributed to UW President Charles Van Hise in 1904. Van Hise, a friend of then Governor Robert M. LaFollette, used his friendship with the Governor to forge closer ties between the University and the state Government.

The Wisconsin Idea was first viewed as a unique public-private governmental experiment, with the university’s faculty elite aiding legislative efforts. Over time, however, the University has more broadly applied this principle and it now embodies the spirit of public-private research, tech transfer and public service by the University. You can read up on more on key moments in the Wisconsin Idea timeline and history here.

Ideas into action—that’s long been the hallmark of Wisconsin, and it’s also the theme of this blog, introducing some of the innovative public-private relationships in the eight-county Madison, Wisconsin Region and the state, the groundbreaking research being done here, the tech transfer, business development and economic development systems we have in place and continue to create and refine and how that helps you—and your business—thrive.

Jennifer Smith, Thrive

jsmith@thrivehere.org | http://www.thrivehere.org | Twitter @thrivehere

Thrive is the economic development enterprise for the eight-county Madison Wisconsin Region.