July 5, 2004
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
Have you heard those pesky radio ads touting Michigan as a great place
to locate a business? I hope Gov. Blagojevich and Speaker Madigan hear
them. Our state needs to step up and support entrepreneurs like Madhusudan
Peshwa, who recently moved here from Seattle. What Peshwa says is
Peshwa is executive vice president of R&D for NewNeural, the
Lisle-based developer of neural regeneration therapies. Peshwa and his
colleagues are exploring experimental approaches to treating brain
"Regenerative medicine and stem-cell therapies are therapies of the
future," says Peshwa, who joined from Seattle-based Dendreon Corp. "Ten
years from now, we may see them matured to a stage where we see clinical
With NewNeural still in the very early stages of development, Peshwa
hopes to someday take adult bone marrow cells and coax them to form new
neurons in the brain. He also believes there might be a small molecule
that can be isolated to stimulate the body's existing adult stem cells,
increasing the brain's ability to regenerate itself. Benefits for stroke
and brain injury victims could be significant.
The underlying technology behind NewNeural's work originated at the
University of Illinois at Chicago in Dr. Kiminobu Sugaya's lab. The
question is: Will local R&D spawn local companies, yielding benefits
to the local economy? Peshwa thinks it can, but he sees obstacles.
Presenting to the Chicago Tech Forum, a local advocacy group, Peshwa
pointed to six other emerging local biotech companies that have potential:
Chromatin, Genix Therapeutics, Genomics U.S.A., NanoDisc, PharmaIn and
"These are examples of companies with really novel technologies,"
Peshwa says. "They are technologies that are yearning for support."
Peshwa sees a need for more early-stage high-risk venture capital to
support our state's biotech start-ups, believes we need to attract more
proven talent to our market, and urges the state could be more supportive.
He also believes there could be more collaboration between local
pharmaceutical companies -- e.g. Abbott and Baxter -- and new start-ups.
Midwest tops in research funds
Still, the news isn't all bad.
"We're beginning to make a real case for what's happening here," says
Chicago Tech Forum organizer Robert Rosenberg of the University of
Chicago. Rosenberg reports the Midwest receives $6.6 billion in research
funding -- more than any other region -- from all sources, including
government, foundations and private grants. Rosenberg analyzed research
funding among the nation's top 100 universities and top 50 medical
centers, which he says accounts for 90 percent of all research in the
nation. "We're starting to see serial investors and people like Dr. Peshwa
who are going to make biotech move in this area," Rosenberg says.
While R&D investment is here, venture money continues to be an
issue. To date, NewNeural has raised $1.1 million, and managers are
looking for an additional $10 million. I hope they find it here and not in
Computer game pioneer Joel Berez is quietly working in Evanston,
building an online community for chess players called Chess-live.com.
Berez is a local organizer of the MIT Enterprise Forum, and he's one of
the creators of Zork, the first computer game to be ported from a
mainframe to a personal computer. He also founded Infocom, one of the
original PC game software companies.
Berez didn't set out to be an electronic game legend. By his own
account, he was in a group at MIT doing serious research for the Navy.
"They had this enormous amount of electronic mail traffic and needed to
sort out the wheat from the chaff. Zork came out of some work we were
doing to interpret Morse code," Berez says. "In Zork we allowed you to
converse in a natural way with the computer. The fun of the game depended
upon the underlying technology to give you the illusion you were talking
with someone who understood you."
The result was a computer fantasy game that set the stage for today's
Nintendo, Sega and Xbox programs.
Bits & bytes
Monique Hinds joined United Airlines as managing director and
chief of development in the technology group, reporting to Nirup
Krishnamurthy, vice president of information services and CIO.
Michael Krauss is a Chicago tech writer and consultant.