A unique collaboration fosters innovation at Forward BIOLABS
Forward BIOLABS, a shared office space that is testing an innovative model for biohealth collaboration in the Midwest, reached its capacity in just seven months, and is now gearing up for expansion. By providing laboratory and office space for biohealth startups to work alongside one another, Forward BIOLABS hopes to foster collaboration and accelerate innovation within the region’s growing biotech sector—and they’re already succeeding.
Located in Madison, Wisconsin, Forward BIOLABS started 10 months ago, supported in part by a $750,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and $200,000 in seed funding from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
As a fully equipped, maintained and shared life science lab, Forward BIOLABS gives early-stage companies breathing room and resources to transition research into successful commercialization. The unique setup enables members to be more agile than they otherwise could be, and leverage capital more efficiently by focusing on technology and business development rather than capital expenditures.
“There isn’t another shared life science laboratory like this in Wisconsin—or Minnesota, Illinois or Iowa for that matter,” says Forward BIOLABS cofounder Jessica Martin Eckerly. “The lab facilities, network and community that Forward BIOLABS provides are powerful tools enabling member startups to move faster than they otherwise would.”
One of those startups is Empirico, an early-stage therapeutics company that aims to use medical data sets, human genetics and programmable biology to power novel target discovery and development.
“Empirico needed to initiate R&D operations immediately following our Series A financing round,” says Dave Lewis, the company’s head of therapeutic development. “The lead times and costs required to get facilities up and running were daunting. Forward BIOLABS offered well-equipped lab space, along with the infrastructure and support that enabled us to start operations almost immediately.”
The lab’s other tenants include Gregor Diagnostics, which is developing a revolutionary screening test for prostate cancer; Vascugen, a regenerative medicine company working on therapies to treat conditions caused by the loss or degeneration of blood vessels; and
Dianomi Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company exploring a sustained-release drug delivery technology from the Bioinspired Materials Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, headed by faculty fellow William Murphy.
The Forward BIO Initiative
Forward BIOLABS itself is just one of three pillars within the Forward BIO Initiative, a Madison-based center of excellence designed to help groundbreaking research move out of the labs and into the marketplace. The other two pillars are the Forward BIO Institute at UW-Madison, which supports research, workforce development and public-private partnerships in biomanufacturing; and BioForward Wisconsin, which creates avenues of corporate engagement with entrepreneurs engaged with the initiative.
Altogether, the initiative is enhancing Wisconsin’s status as a national leader in the biomanufacturing industry, which includes the advanced manufacturing of therapeutic medical devices, cells, tissues and pharmaceuticals—and it is doing so by capitalizing on the groundwork laid by numerous Wisconsin educators and innovators.
“The community recognized we needed shared lab space that wasn’t just incubator space, but rather a partnership with a grander vision that could support early-stage companies and spotlight them as part of Wisconsin’s biomanufacturing center of excellence,” says Lisa Johnson, CEO of BioForward Wisconsin. “We know many of the key players in this state and how to bring them together to advance and support the emerging-growth companies within Forward BIOLABS. We have the industry and academic expertise that jointly gives us a competitive advantage.”
Wisconsin’s business anchors
WEDC’s investment in the Forward BIO Initiative is part of a long-term strategy to grow and expand targeted, high-growth business clusters, ultimately leading to significant job growth in Wisconsin.
WEDC-supported centers of excellence, including the Global Water Center and the Energy Innovation Center, serve as cluster “anchors” around which educational and corporate R&D, commercialization, external investment and company attraction connections are made. Wisconsin’s thriving life science and technology sectors are proof the strategy is working.
Visit InWisconsin.com for more information on Wisconsin’s growing biohealth sector and the resources available to help biohealth companies succeed.