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U of Wisconsin-Affiliated Morgridge Institute Aims for 100 New Hires

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The privately-funded Morgridge Institute for Research, part of the public-private Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, plans to recruit 10 principal investigators among 100 researchers and support staffers to be hired over the next five years.

The 100 new people will help Morgridge carry out research in regenerative biology, virology, medical devices, pharmaceutical informatics, and education research; as well as develop and run programs in two additional fields, core computational technology and outreach to students and the general public.

The specialties are designed to enhance Morgridge's mission of translating biomedical discoveries into new drugs and devices, as well as complement the research areas of its publicly-funded twin institute, the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, which include epigenetics and systems biology. The twin institutes are known collectively as the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, now completing a $205 million, 300,000-square-foot facility within the UW-Madison campus.

"For 'discovery biology' areas (regenerative biology, virology), existing strength at UW was a primary factor in their inclusion among the five research areas," Sangtae (Sang) Kim, executive director of the Morgridge Institute, told GenomeWeb Daily News via e-mail today. "Systems biology and computational biology will be the cross-cutting platform for collaborations across the research areas in Morgridge."

"Our aspiration, at steady-state, reached in five to ten years, is an annual R&D budget of $60 million," Kim added.

Kim has named himself and six other UW-Madison faculty members to lead each of the research areas and program topics. Kim will add to his duties a principal investigator role in pharmaceutical informatics, while Paul Ahlquist will lead virology. Ahlquist holds several faulty positions: Howard Hughes Medical Investigator and professor of oncology at the medical school; professor of molecular biology at the graduate school; and professor of plant pathology at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Stem cell pioneer James Thompson, an anatomy professor at the School of Medicine and Public Health, will direct regenerative biology, while Thomas (Rock) Mackie, the co-inventor, co-founder and chair of TomoTherapy, will head medical devices. Mackie is a professor of medical physics at the School of Medicine and Public Health, and a professor of biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering.

Anthropologist Susan Millar will direct education research, collaborating with scientists at Morgridge and the publicly-funded Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.

Also serving both institutes will be Miron Livny, director of the UW-Madison Center for High Throughput Computing, who will lead core computational technology, while Morgridge Outreach Experiences will be led by Nirupama (Rupa) Shevde. She is a senior scientist and director of education and outreach at the WiCell Research Institute, and an honorary associate/fellow in biochemistry at the agri/life-sci school.

All but Shevde have served till now as strategic consultants to Kim, helping him in developing Morgridge's mission, goals, operations, and organizational structure.

Some 30 people, from researchers to development professionals, now work at Morgridge, which remains a private not-for-profit institution while affiliated with publicly-funded UW-Madison.

Morgridge's private status was designed in part to allow for greater flexibility in pursuing research. When Gov. Jim Doyle and UW's then-Chancellor John Wiley first announced the concept of a public-private research center in 2004, followed by the financing plan two years later, federal funds could not be used for research into human embryonic stem cell lines beyond those created after Aug. 9, 2001, under an order by then-president George W. Bush. While President Obama lifted the restriction last year, Morgridge will remain private, Kim said.

"A private, non-profit medical research organization possesses speed/agility and the freedom to focus a great amount of resources on problems of great urgency, independent of the multi-faceted political process that is the reality of a modern public university," Kim said.

The funding difference between the twin institutes should not be apparent from the design of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery facility, set for completion in December.

"Though there is a property line between the public and private land, the interior is being designed so it is invisible and you cannot see a difference between Morgridge space and WID space," Kim said.

Of the $205 million cost of the facility, $105 million comes from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the private non-profit patenting and licensing organization for UW-Madison. Donations of $50 million each from the state of Wisconsin, and from former Cisco Systems Chairman and CEO John Morgridge and his wife, Tashia Morgridge, both alumni of UW-Madison.

According to its most recent available Form 990 — filed with the US Internal Revenue Service for the year ending June 30, 2008 — Morgridge received $8.6 million in cash from WARF in a series of transactions that began with a later-rescinded 2007 donation pledge to WARF toward startup costs, general operations, and building costs. Morgridge ended the 2008 fiscal year with net assets of $8.75 million.

During FY 2008, Morgridge recorded nearly $2.3 million in total expenses, and only $26,618 in revenues, consisting entirely of interest from savings and temporary cash investments. Expenses included just over $1 million to UW-Madison, of which $738,000 was allocated toward collaborative medical research and $267,800 in research expenditures for a group of seven bioinformatics specialists, according to the Form 990.

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