Milwaukee-area pharmaceutical industry gaining momentum

Over the past several years, a pharmaceutical industry has quietly gathered increasing momentum in the Milwaukee area. The area’s pharmaceutical industry is in the formative stages, but southeastern Wisconsin has the range and depth of pharmaceutical-related offerings to generate self-sustaining growth.

Some companies in the area, like Cambridge Major Laboratories Inc. in Germantown, make active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), the active ingredients in prescription and over-the-counter drugs. API producers operate as contract manufacturers, sending their products to drug companies that combine the API with other ingredients into the final product.

The metro area is also home to several emerging drug companies, dedicated to bringing new drugs to market. These companies have relatively few employees, but are working on next-generation drugs to treat neurological, cardiac and other disorders.

There are also several companies that perform drug safety testing in the Milwaukee area. These companies test new drugs that seek FDA approval in the pre-clinical and human clinical phases of testing.

Despite the recession, most companies within the pharmaceutical industry in the Milwaukee area are growing significantly.

API producers are expanding plants, dramatically increasing sales or acquiring other companies. Drug development companies have signed licensing contracts with universities, such as Marquette and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and are raising venture capital.

Spaulding Clinical Research in West Bend, a drug testing firm, is already planning to quadruple its size after being open for only one year.

While the three types of companies operate in different niches of the pharmaceutical industry, the significant growth in multiple areas marks the evolution of a self-sustaining pharmaceutical industry in the Milwaukee area, said Carl Sheeley, president and owner of Fontarome Chemical Inc., a St. Francis-based API producer.

“It’s like a nuclear reaction,” he said. “You cannot gain a crucial mass with just a little piece of plutonium. But if you build it up, all of a sudden you’ve got people, IP (intellectual property) and money from the local area.”

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