Mark Eisen reports the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) lags behind a majority of its peers in commercializing and monetizing research. The university had a “wake-up” call in the form of a provocative study by Mary Westrick, a 35-year clinical trials veteran.  What would it take for the university to get back on track and become a pacesetter in the rewarding field of life science drug development?  The answer—”major culture change spearheaded by their top leadership.”

Westrick argues that the key to success includes revamping the campus review of projects that involve human subjects.  UW-Madison faces many issues that other major institutions deal with on a day to day basis:

  • Red tape and bureaucracy
  • Failure to embrace comprehensive, market-oriented standards that produce quality test outcomes

Westrick notes that UW-Madison (like many large bureaucracies) places too much emphasis on “protecting the university from any risk, liability or adverse policy.” There is a fundamental risk and reward calculus here.  Those that don’t take risk don’t produce great rewards either.  As a consequence, many institutions (UW-Madison not alone by any means) “stifles potentially beneficial—even life-saving—research to patients with no counter-balanced benefit of increased patient protection.”

The negative assessment was contested by some administrators. But it ultimately represents a determined movement on campus to embrace the linkage of medical education, patient care and research discoveries to produce breakthrough treatments.  University research represents high stakes outcomes.

Ms. Westrick represents serious business. She founded her own 200+ employee research lab in Indiana. She sold the venture and took an executive post with Covance, one of the world’s largest CROs.  She holds a master’s degree and a doctorate in toxicology and pharmacology from Purdue University.


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