The Forward BIO Initiative team serves as the leaders for the initiative, providing expertise and guidance to each aspect of the overall initiative and its individual partners.

Photos for Five Questions piece.

Bill Murphy

Director, Forward BIO Institute

Chair, Forward BIO Initiative

Bill Murphy is the Director of the Forward BIO Institute, and Harvey D. Spangler Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Professor of Orthopedics & Rehabilitation. His research interests focus on creating new biomedical technologies inspired by nature, with a particular emphasis on new treatments for patients with debilitating diseases. Over the past 15 years, Murphy’s research group has created a cadre of groundbreaking new biomaterials, which are now being applied for biomanufacturing of medical devices, drugs, cells, and tissues. He has published more than 160 scientific manuscripts, filed over 50 patents, co-founded multiple venture-backed start-up companies, and received awards that include the National Science Foundation Career Award, the Wisconsin Vilas Associate Award, the Romnes Fellowship, and induction as a Fellow in the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.


Jessica Martin Eckerly

Co-founder, Forward BIOLABS

Vice-Chair, Forward BIO Initiative

Jessica Martin Eckerly is the Co-founder of Forward BIOLABS. She was most recently the Director of Business Operations and Marketing at WiCell, where she provided strategic direction for WiCell, with a focus on growing current lines of business and identifying new business initiatives. Prior to WiCell Jessica held positions at the startup Stratatech (now Mallinckrodt), the international contract research organization Pharmaceutical Product Development (PPD, Inc.), and UW-Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health.  Jessica has experience in marketing, business development, operations, quality assurance, quality control, mentoring, and teaching.   Jessica obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and holds an Executive MBA and a master’s degree in biotechnology, both from UW–Madison.

LJ Headshot - 2018

Lisa Johnson

CEO, BioForward Wisconsin

Industry Engagement Lead, Forward BIO Initiative

Lisa Johnson is CEO of BioForward Wisconsin and admits that managing a nonprofit has an entire new set of challenges vs. private industry. A finance major out of UW-Madison who was fortunate to work with brilliant scientists in starting the life science reagents company Novagen back in 1989 and travel the world working for Merck KGaA/EMD. She has a passion for building Wisconsin’s biohealth ecosystem and will support those that are action-oriented, and exhibit positive energy in driving our state’s economy. Her expertise lies in general management, operations, business development and leading results-oriented teams. She likes to dance to her own beat, demonstrate results and applaud those that put the community before themselves.


Robert Drape

Co-founder, Forward BIOLABS

Advisor, Forward BIO Initiative

Robert Drape is the co-founder of Forward BIOLABS, and Executive Director of the WiCell Research Institute. Robert has been part of the local biotechnology community for the last 25 years, working in both research and leadership roles for organizations focusing on vaccine development, clinical research, biomanufacturing, and research support. Robert earned an Executive MBA from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2013 and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Augustana College (IL).

Cathy Rasmussen

Assistant Director, Forward BIO Institute

Innovation Lead, Forward BIO Initiative

Cathy Rasmussen, Assistant Director of the Forward BIO Institute, possesses substantial expertise in strategic planning, extramural fundraising, project management, cross-functional leadership, product development, and scientific communications. She has over 20 years of experience in regenerative medicine and translational biomanufacturing research, specializing in cell-based therapies and tissue engineering strategies for treating complex skin defects. Dr. Rasmussen was part of the pioneering team at Stratatech – a Mallinckrodt Company where she spearheaded development and marketing of a human skin model for toxicology applications, directed the preclinical studies program, and managed product development for the company’s genetically-modified product line. She has also authored numerous publications and book chapters, and is an inventor on four U.S. and numerous international patents.