PROFS Supports “Mark Cook Bill”

Mark Cook

PROFS strongly supports Assembly Bill 758/Senate Bill 671, dubbed the Mark Cook Bill, recently-introduced bipartisan legislation (below) that would change state statutes that regulate how the university contracts with companies in which faculty or other university employees have a financial interest. PROFS convened a group of entrepreneurial faculty to develop the legislation.

UW-Madison Animal Sciences Professor Mark Cook, who passed away in September, served as chair of the PROFS Entrepreneurial Work Group, comprised of UW-Madison faculty who started successful companies. A self-described “chickenologist,” Mark created four companies from his research and his work led to 50 patents. He attracted and mentored other researchers who had a similar entrepreneurial spirit.

Mark’s spinoff Ab E Discovery, is “set to smash business as usual,” according to an article by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). Ab E Discovery, which will soon be breaking ground on Wisconsin operations, is advancing a natural, drug-free method to protect poultry, pigs, dairy and beef cattle against common infections.

Mark Cook died of cancer on September 9, 2017, at age 61. A native of Houma, Louisiana, Mark joined the faculty at UW-Madison in 1982. Upon his death, an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said Mark “embodied the Wisconsin Idea” – the belief that “education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom.” Mark had a positive impact on everyone he met, including the students who learned from him and worked alongside him in his lab.

Mark felt very strongly about the statutory changes contained in AB 758/SB 671. Mark recognized that Wisconsin law is out of step with the modern research and business worlds because it includes an overly cumbersome and lengthy process for allowing research companies to contract with the university when a faculty or staff member has a financial interest in the company.

Even relatively small contracts (any contract exceeding $250,000 over a two-year period) must receive a 45-day review by the UW System Board of Regents despite previous review by university officials.

The law hinders the UW’s ability to move quickly to bring in R&D expenditures from businesses and

other funding entities. These funds are significant revenue sources at other universities. It is not a coincidence that the two universities that recently overtook UW-Madison in the overall research ranking do a much better job of attracting outside private funding for research projects.

Research companies connected to UW-Madison researchers have been forced to take initiatives such as clinical trials to other states. And top UW-Madison faculty have been recruited to universities where they can work more collaboratively with businesses and other funding entities.

PROFS thanks Representatives Dave Murphy and Terese Berceau and Senators Dan Feyen and Fred Risser, along with other co-sponsors, for introducing this important legislation to streamline the process. The legislation will eliminate the 45-day delay and instead create a much more reasonable process that will continue to address conflicts and protect the university’s interests.

AB 758/SB 671 will require that the individual or body responsible for managing potential conflicts of interest at the UW institution (e.g. UW-Madison) that employs the faculty or staff member has an interest in the company issue a management plan evaluating and addressing the interest. Additional contacts will be allowed to proceed as long as such a plan is in place.

AB 758/SB 671 will also amend the definition of research company in the statutes to include non-profits as well as commercial businesses. Many non-profit entities fund a significant amount of research.

The Assembly Committee on Constitution and Ethics will hold a public hearing on AB 758 at 1 p.m., Thursday, January 11, in Room 300 Northeast of the State Capitol.

PROFS looks forward to working with other supporters of this legislation to ensure it becomes law.