Jackson Laboratory eyes expansion in Florida

Posted Oct. 14, 2009, at 8:07 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:55 a.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Seeing the potential for the development of personalized medicine, The Jackson Laboratory is considering expanding to a third state.

With more than 1,200 employees in Bar Harbor and approximately 90 more in Sacramento, Calif., Jackson Lab is looking into the possibility of establishing an institute for personalized medicine in southwest Florida, the lab announced Wednesday in a prepared statement. Currently, the lab is evaluating whether such an institute would be feasible.

Jackson Lab, founded in Bar Harbor in 1929, uses mice to study human disease and medical conditions and each year breeds millions of mice that are used in similar studies around the world. It is one of the largest employers in eastern Maine and is the largest in Hancock County.

“We are on the verge of a whole new era in medicine, and we expect to play a pioneering role in the science that will accelerate personalized medicine,” Rick Woychik, the lab’s president and CEO, indicated in the statement. “Understanding the complex genetics of disease and of the individual will enable physicians to treat patients more effectively, reduce drug side effects and lower the cost of health care.”

Significant reductions in the cost and speed of genome sequencing and a deeper understanding of genetic networks are creating exciting new possibilities for treating patients based on their unique genetic makeup, Woychik indicated. Genome sequencing is a scientific process by which an organism’s entire genetic code is mapped out as it appears in sequence in that organism’s DNA.

Joyce Peterson, public information manager for the lab, indicated in an e-mail Wednesday that the lab is looking to Florida as a potential site for the possible institute because the state has invested “hundreds of millions” of dollars to create a biomedical research cluster that includes Scripps Research Institute, Burnham Institute, Torrey Pines Institute, Max Planck Institute and others. The lab has been in contact with people in the Collier County area near Naples who are working to put together an attractive package of incentives, including a possible building site, she said.

Peterson said geneticists and “bioinformatics scientists” would collaborate with the lab’s basic researchers in Bar Harbor in pursuing developments in personalized medicine. Eventually, the lab hopes it would include Florida medical schools and other research institutions in the state in their collaborative projects, she indicated.

As currently envisioned, the institute would have about 200 employees and an annual estimated operating budget of about $100 million within the first few years, according to Peterson.

Woychik indicated in the statement that the Florida institute would have little, if any, effect on the lab’s presence in Maine and California.

“Although we are considering a new branch in Florida, our core operations will stay in Maine,” the lab president said in the release. “We want to assure our employees, friends and neighbors that any expansion will be designed to complement our existing scientific capabilities here. We will maintain and grow our existing programs and facilities in Maine and California.”

btrotter@bangordailynews.net

460-6318

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