State seeds stem-cell company based on UW-Madison research

May 14, 2007 By Michael Penn

Governor Jim Doyle today (May 14) gave a $1 million boost to a University of Wisconsin–Madison spin-off company during a visit to the campus lab that gave birth to its technology.

Photo of Gov. Jim Doyle, Cezar and Donley

Gov. Jim Doyle presents Gabriela Cezar, left, and Elizabeth Donley, center, with a $1 million award to promote further development of Stemina Biomarker Discovery, a university spin-off company Cezar and Donley founded based on Cezar’s embryonic stem-cell research.

Photo: Wolfgang Hoffmann

Doyle announced the award to Stemina Biomarker Discovery, a nascent biotechnology company that will use stem cells to screen new drugs, at a press conference in the lab of Gabriela Cezar, an assistant professor of animal sciences whose research on embryonic stem cells spawned the company. Cezar serves as chief scientific officer and co-founder of Stemina, which is the third Wisconsin company created from UW–Madison stem-cell research.

“This award will promote the development of a new company that will build on our legacy of stem cell research and create new jobs for Wisconsin,” Doyle told a crowd of scientists, investors and reporters who gathered in Cezar’s lab. “Dr. Cezar’s company has the potential to achieve breakthroughs that will create high-tech jobs in our state, and more importantly, save lives.”

Stemina is developing technologies that use stem cells to help pharmaceutical companies screen new drugs. Based on discoveries made by Cezar in her UW–Madison lab, the company identifies small molecules in cells called biomarkers that can help scientists evaluate the toxicity of new drugs and diagnose diseases. The development of these biomarkers can potentially save drug manufacturers millions of dollars in testing costs and make it easier to identify promising new treatments for cancer and other diseases.

Cezar has pioneered techniques to identify biomarkers since joining UW–Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences in 2005. Her work is patented by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), which has licensed the technology to Stemina.

Elizabeth Donley, Stemina’s chief executive officer, says the company is recruiting scientists and is close to finalizing a deal for laboratory space. She adds that the state’s award will create opportunities to attract other investors. “The seed the governor has planted here today is one that we can grow,” she says.

Cezar credits UW–Madison and WARF for creating “an environment that fosters innovation and creativity.” She says the award demonstrates Wisconsin’s commitment to supporting stem cell science and to assist scientists in translating their research to the market. “This strategic alliance between science and entrepreneurship is vital for the future of Wisconsin,” she says.