Tech Tour Day One: A Look At Michigan’s Biotech Future At MichBio

October 16, 2013

KALAMAZOO (WWJ) – Over the years, I’ve started the fall Tech Tour in Chicago, at a conference that celebrated a now-largely-forgotten technology called WiMax.

Other times, I’ve started near home, and worked my way Up North.

This year’s Fall Tech Tour is starting and ending in Kalamazoo, near my ancestral homelands. Next Friday, I’ll be visiting my friends in the tech transfer office of Western Michigan University — asking, as I always do on the Tech Tour, to see their coolest science projects that have the potential to be new Michigan tech companies.

But this week, it was checking out the latest in Michigan’s pharmaceutical and medical device industries, at the annual Conference and Expo of MichBio, the state’s bioscience industries association, at downtown Kalamazoo’s beautiful Radisson Plaza Hotel.

MichBio executive director Stephen Rapundalo said numbers were up for the conference this year in terms of sponsors and exhibitors. Those exhibitors ranged from biotech startups to incubators to service providers like accountants, public relations consultants and intellectual property law firms.

Speakers talked about everything from patent law to clinical trial design to virtual prototyping and 3D printing.

Dawn Bardot, senior manager at the Medical Device Innovation Consortium, an industry group, presented on the future of 3D printing in the medical device industry. As well as its present — Invisalign invisible braces are manufactured using 3D printing technology of a patient’s individual teeth, and Biomet Orthopedics uses CAD representations of patient anatomy to custom-design orthopedic implants.

Also talking 3D printing was Scott J. Hollister, a professor in the departments of biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering and surgery at the University of Michigan, whose work in 3D printing saved the life of a young patient with a collapsed airway. Hollister is using the technology to make scaffolding to rebuild complex physical defects — the porous scaffolds then encourage natural tissue growth, replacing the missing or malformed structures within the body.

Christie Coplen, CEO of Royal Oak-based Versicor, talked about her company’s hardware and software platform for assisting the creation of new medical devices. Versicor sells white-labeled electronic control modules for medical devices that can be programmed with custom software by medical device developers. And the company offers “a clear, predictable certification and documentation path,” she said.

There was also plenty of opportunity for networking at the event. One of the more interesting companies present was Detroit-based Mitostem, which has developed technology to induce pluripotent stem cells out of a variety of other human cells, including skin cells.

Using proteins as cellular reprogramming factors, the company is testing technologies that may one day lead to custom-grown tissues for individual repair surgeries.

The company is based in Detroit’s TechTown and is in the process of raising angel funding.

Closing keynoter Stelios Papadopolous, co-founder and board chairman of Exelexis Inc., took a look back at 40 years in the biotech industry — literally, since the first scientific paper on recombinant DNA research was published 40 years ago next month, in November 1973.

And forward — Papadopolous said he expects social media technology to change how medical clinical trials are conducted.

And so began the 2013 Fall Tech Tour. Tomorrow, I’m off to the Upper Peninsula to begin the “real” part of the tour — interviews with the tech transfer folks at Michigan Technological University to learn how they’re transforming the western Upper Peninsula through science, technology and research.

You’ll learn more about this fall’s Tech Tour Mobile, too — a 2013 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium, an amazing vehicle.

After Michigan Tech, I’ll be visiting Saginaw Valley State University, Central Michigan University, Ferris State University, Grand Valley State University and Western Michigan University.