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2022 Lab Symposium yields insights for supporting biotech research

January 17, 2023 By Alex Peirce

The Wisconsin Idea was founded on the belief that education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom. The University of Wisconsin–Madison has continued to deliver on this principle by creating jobs in the state and by sharing groundbreaking research and discoveries that impact the lives of people in Wisconsin and around the world.

UW–Madison continues to contribute to Wisconsin’s growing biotechnology industry, training students to enter the workforce, partnering on research with private companies and advancing life-saving discoveries such as an antibody treatment that reduces asthma attacks in children living in low-income urban neighborhoods. Many of Wisconsin’s most successful biotech companies today began as startups with ties to the university or to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and either grew into established homegrown companies or have been acquired by global biotech companies as valued additions to their operations.

In November and December 2022, UW–Madison leaders in the School of Medicine and Public Health, Facilities Planning & Management and the Office of Finance and Administration hosted the Symposium on Laboratory Lifecycle Management, a forward-thinking gathering to share ideas about accelerating biotech innovation and research in Wisconsin. The three-day event focused on managing existing laboratory facilities and deepening collaboration between UW–Madison and industry partners. Attendees also discussed the need for future facilities that are flexible and responsive to changing needs and opportunities. These conversations will be used to inform UW–Madison’s approach to new development and redevelopment in the West Campus District Plan.

“The symposium highlights the benefits of investing in our biotechnology research laboratories and the services that support these facilities,” Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Rob Cramer said. “We need to provide the best possible experience for our faculty and students, while continuing to develop new research labs at UW–Madison because these are vital to keeping and attracting companies — and jobs — to the state.”

Research laboratory management is key in accelerating research and increasing collaboration with industry partners. Maintaining existing facilities is often overlooked as an expense when assigning budgets from funding agencies, and the ability to quickly deliver laboratories for new research can be a challenge. These physical spaces can play an important role in recruiting leading faculty, post-docs and graduate students.

UW–Madison faculty and researchers, subject matter experts, industry leaders, facility managers and architects attended the symposium to discuss the biotechnology and bio health industry landscape. The conversation included topics such as facility operations, design, planning and management; anticipated challenges in the research landscape and how organizations like UW–Madison can prepare and respond; future needs in science and research; and resourcing and financing laboratories for the long term.

Attendees reported finding value in hearing from a diverse group of panelists and stakeholders, with one attendee noting that they especially appreciated the “open discussion about the biggest constraints [UW–Madison faces] and what needs to be done to achieve the goals of creating world-class lab spaces for the university to collaborate with private industry.”

Key takeaways from the symposium include:

  • A need for increased collaboration between public and private partners to secure funding, explore various delivery models and encourage continued growth;
  • The importance of efficient and effective use of existing spaces, many of which are located in aging buildings, further underscoring the need for proactive facility management practices;
  • Flexible facilities and laboratories can attract a variety of faculty, students, post-doc and graduate talent and support cutting-edge science, innovation, and discovery in biotechnology;
  • Opportunities for even stronger coordination and cooperation between UW–Madison colleges and departments to identify shared resources; and
  • A need to deliver research spaces that are designed to accommodate future needs, technologies and opportunities in biotechnology.

“The symposium provided fruitful discussion and preliminary considerations for steps we can take to support and advance our biotech research efforts at UW–Madison,” Cramer said. “We look to our industry partners and others who attended the symposium to hold the University accountable for progress in this area.”

More information about the Symposium on Laboratory Lifecycle Management can be found on the Finance & Administration website.