Posted tagged ‘WARF’

Silence at WARF

September 2, 2019

What’s Wisconsin greatest public asset for doing good in the world? I’ll put a double-sawbuck on UW-Madison. Our world-class university is a standout for teaching, research and innovation. That’s why the performance of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation — the campus’s designated handler of intellectual property since  1925 — is so important to the state.

Getting a clear picture of WARF’s operation isn’t always easy. Here’s how I began a recent Isthmus story:

A preternatural silence has surrounded the departure of one of the highest paid executives on the UW-Madison campus. It’s one more sign of the big changes rocking the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, UW’s independent patenting and licensing operation.

Carrie Thome, WARF’s award-winning chief investment officer who rose to power under WARF’s previous managing director Carl Gulbrandsen, left her post in June after 18 years with the foundation. Her compensation package topped $1.2 million in 2017, the last year such data is publicly available.

Briefly noted in the niche financial media, Thome’s low-key exit has gone unmentioned by Wisconsin news outlets. On July 1, Chief Investment Officer magazine quoted a WARF publicist as saying that Thome’s “transition” was a personnel matter and that WARF would not comment beyond that.

Thome did not return my messages. (Her LinkedIn page describes her as self-employed and a consultant since July.) Erik Iverson, who replaced the retired Gulbrandsen in 2016, was not available for comment. WARF’s board chairman James Berbee did not respond to an interview request.

Thome, who joined WARF in 2001 after a stint with the Wisconsin Investment Board, presided over a huge investment portfolio — $2.78 billion as of 2017. Established in 1925, the WARF endowment supports various UW-Madison and Morgridge Institute for Research programs with sizable yearly grants. According to the 2017 federal disclosure form, the portfolio included $1.72 billion in hedge fund investments, $659.4 million in money market funds, $346.7 million in private-equity limited partnerships, $29.8 million in fixed-income vehicles, and $19.7 million invested in WARF startup companies.

Keep that $19.7 million figure in mind.

To read more, please go here.

UW-Madison’s Research Challenge

November 9, 2018

I’m late in posting the stories I’ve written for Isthmus on UW-Madison’s struggles as a great research university to get its inventions and discoveries into the broader world.  Here’s how the first story begins:

It’s a story that Madison loves to hear.

Two plucky entrepreneurs, Kevin Conroy and Manesh Arora, are hired in 2009 to revive a moribund health-tech startup in Boston. They have the temerity to move it from the best-known metropolis in the country for medical innovation to the much smaller Madison, where Conroy had run Third Wave Technologies. Their company had but two employees.

“Without the UW-Madison, Exact Sciences would not be in Madison,” Conroy says flatly. “We came here because the UW’s biochemistry program is one of the top in the country. It enabled us to hire really strong Ph.D. level scientists.”

Flash forward nine years: Exact Sciences has about 1,600 employees, 200 job vacancies, a stock market valuation of around $8 billion, and a fast-selling non-invasive colorectal cancer test called Cologuard. Other cancer tests are in the works.

Exact Sciences personifies the rise of the new Madison. It rides a wave of tech innovation that is closely tied to the UW’s fabled research prowess. But Cologuard was not tested at UW Hospital and Clinics, as you might expect, but at Mayo Clinics, which is Exact Sciences’ long-time partner. Exact’s other medical trials were conducted at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Three years ago, when I wrote a mostly upbeat Isthmus cover story on technology transfer at UW-Madison, Conroy was a brooding presence. Doing clinical trials with the UW School of Medicine and Public Health was just too complicated, too prone for delay with the clinical trial review board, he complained. Both Anderson and Mayo were easier to work with “for a company operating at the speed of light.”

Conroy was heard. Exact Sciences is now doing preparatory research with the UW med school, but not yet a full-blown federally approved clinical trial.

Conroy sees progress. He considers himself a UW-Madison booster. But his impatience remains, and he’s definitely not alone in feeling the campus doesn’t yet have its act together on embracing the 21st century innovation economy. “C’mon, we can do better,” he says, sounding like a football coach at half-time.

To read more, please go here. And while you’re at it keep an eye out for other stories in the series.


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