Discoveries made at UW–Madison have saved lives—and changed the world—through new drug treatments, medical procedures, policies, and much more. But discoveries don’t always arrive in the form of reliable, consumer-friendly products. Enter the Master of Science in Biotechnology program, which centers on the other steps in the process of turning emerging knowledge into practical applications. It celebrates its 15th anniversary this year with a lively dialogue about the future of the biotechnology industry.
The dialogue began in March, when program graduates, faculty members, and leaders of biotechnology companies gathered at the Wisconsin Institute for Medical Research to talk about education’s role in the industry. Kevin Conroy, CEO of Exact Sciences, moderated a panel discussion featuring program director Rick Moss, instructor and Cellera founder Scott Fulton, bioethics professor Pilar Ossorio, and alumni Alana Davis, Mike Polewski, Natalie Polinske, and Abdalla Saad.
Boosting Wisconsin’s economy
Conroy said the Master of Science in Biotechnology program benefits the state’s economy in numerous ways. In particular, its students tend to stay in Wisconsin—and grow the biotech industry here—after they graduate.
“[Of] almost 350 graduates, 75 percent have stayed here and made a difference,” he said.
Fulton described watching the Madison area grow into a hub for life-sciences companies over the past 15 years. The community is now home to large multinational companies, influential venture-funded businesses, and many startups. Some of these companies, he added, have “gone on to be successful, stable businesses long term in the biotech field.”
The Master of Science in Biotechnology program has been a catalyst in this transformation. Its leaders want it to fuel many more waves of growth as well. Moss shared that the program will soon offer more policy courses and a closer look at ethics. A multi-track format—including a track focused on big data—may be on the horizon, too, he said.
The panelists also discussed what else the future may hold for the industry both locally and globally, ways to better translate academic research into commercial products, and how to create a more hospitable climate for entrepreneurship in Wisconsin.
Alumni had a chance to share their experiences from the Biotechnology program as well. Several explained how it has advanced their careers at companies ranging from small startups to large global corporations to healthcare organizations.
Geared toward scientists, technical professionals, attorneys, businesspeople, and other working professionals, the Biotechnology master’s program focuses on product development and technology-based entrepreneurship. Its multidisciplinary curriculum includes courses in science, law, and business, taught by UW–Madison faculty and biotech leaders from private industry in the Madison area. To accommodate busy schedules, the program offers classes on evenings and weekends.