Taking Stock – Madison Biotech

In August 2012, Luke Timmerman of Xconomy wrote about the hurt being caused to biotech clusters as they are losing anchor tenants. Luke mentions the acquisitions of Amylin Pharmaceuticals in San Diego by Bristol Myers Squibb and Human Genome Sciences in Washington DC by Glaxo Smith Kline. Acquisitions can be positive at times (e.g. providing returns to local early investors to reinvest) but can also have big downsides (e.g. loss of jobs if the site shuts down). The story in Seattle has been a little different in that an anchor, Dendreon has had a rough patch resulting in layoffs and in September the city lost Sarepta as the company moved to Boston.

Since the Madison area has a different profile than many areas referred to as biotech clusters, I’ve been interested to see how the community has coped with the changing business environment over the last few years. Reviewing the local news for 2012, the Madison biotech community has seen layoffs or closings from some of the more established companies such as

Although there have been a few smaller companies contracting or shutting down, those events don’t generally hit the news so are harder to track. There are also some small and large biotech companies expanding and hiring around town:

To take a look at a more comprehensive set of data, In Business Madison, a local business magazine, recently published a Top 100 List of Dane County’s Largest 100 Employers. Madison is the state capitol and home to a major academic force: University of Wisconsin Madison*. However, the list excluded government entities, which is fine for this purpose. The city of Madison has ~230,000 residents and is the largest city in Dane County (~485,000 residents). The list included actual employment numbers but I’ve just used the rankings below to keep things clean. I only have the list in print but am checking to see if In Business Madison will post the list online.

Biotech Companies in the Top 100 Employers in Dane County

Three of the top 25 and nine of the top 100 employers are biotech companies.

Size Matters for Wisconsin Biotech

For Wisconsin biotech, size matters. In an economic impact study from BioForward, the state biotech association, that found only 7% of biotech companies in the state have more than 100 employees. All of the companies on the Top 100 list above had more than 100 employees. A group called Biotech Profiles that tracks Madison biotech has data indicating that ~15% of Madison biotech companies have >100 employees.


Unfortunately, the data above is anecdotal but it does suggest that the community has maintained a broad base of diversified companies. I wonder if there is more nuance to the “anchor” phenomenon than simply having a couple of big companies to balance out the community. If the anchor companies are smaller and more diverse from the outset, is the impact of anchor changes less dramatic? Or just different?


The University of Wisconsin Madison, which has over 42,000 students. UW Madison ranks in the top of the country for federally funded research and a variety of other measures.


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