New Jackson Lab facility in Connecticut could yield jobs in Maine

Heather Fairfield, a research assistant at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, uses a pipette to work with embryonic stem cell DNA in February 2010 at the facility's genetic research lab. The lab announced plans Friday for a $1.1 billion medical research center in Connecticut that lab officials said would likely lead to additional jobs at the institution’s Bar Harbor facility.
Heather Fairfield, a research assistant at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, uses a pipette to work with embryonic stem cell DNA in February 2010 at the facility's genetic research lab. The lab announced plans Friday for a $1.1 billion medical research center in Connecticut that lab officials said would likely lead to additional jobs at the institution’s Bar Harbor facility.
Posted Sept. 30, 2011, at 12:43 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 30, 2011, at 6:54 p.m.

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The Jackson Laboratory on Mount Desert Island is seen in an aerial photo taken in October 2009. The Jackson Laboratory announced plans Friday for a $1.1 billion medical research center in Connecticut that lab officials said would likely lead to additional jobs at the institution’s Bar Harbor facility.
The Jackson Laboratory on Mount Desert Island is seen in an aerial photo taken in October 2009. The Jackson Laboratory announced plans Friday for a $1.1 billion medical research center in Connecticut that lab officials said would likely lead to additional jobs at the institution’s Bar Harbor facility.

The Jackson Laboratory announced plans Friday for a $1.1 billion medical research center in Connecticut that lab officials said would likely lead to additional jobs at the institution’s Bar Harbor facility.

The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine will focus on the development of personalized treatments for cancer and other diseases based on individual patients’ genetic makeup. The proposed 173,500-square-foot facility would be built near the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington but would also work with other Connecticut institutions, including Yale University School of Medicine.

The facility is expected to create 300 jobs in Connecticut in the first decade and up to 600 jobs within 20 years, not including construction jobs.

But Jackson Lab officials said the new center for personalized medicine in Connecticut will benefit the lab’s primary facility in Bar Harbor both in terms of international prestige and job creation.

Recent developments in the genomics field allow researchers to compare and contrast individuals’ genetic data much more easily, opening the door for researchers to develop specific treatment regimens or even preventative medicine for individuals. But experimental findings have to be validated in a lab, typically using specialized, “genetically defined” mice.

“That is exactly what we have excelled at in Bar Harbor,” said Chuck Hewett, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Jackson Lab, which is a world leader in the development of genetically defined mice. Experimental medical treatments developed in Connecticut could then be tested in mice at the lab’s sprawling Bar Harbor facility.

Dr. Edison T. Liu, the lab’s newly appointed president and CEO, said in a statement that the fast pace of medical discovery “would drive both research funding and laboratory mouse sales, thus creating more jobs here in Maine.”

Jackson Lab had originally planned to locate a personalized medicine research facility in Florida, with the help of $100 million in start-up money from that state. However, lab officials dropped the plan in the spring due to Florida’s financial situation.

After hearing of the collapse of a deal with Florida, Connecticut officials began aggressively courting Jackson Lab with the help of an $854 million “Bioscience Connecticut” initiative recently approved by state lawmakers. That initiative aims to expand bioscience research and increase training and enrollment at Connecticut medical and dental schools.

Liu said Friday that the Bioscience Connecticut project was a top draw, along with the location’s proximity to other major metropolitan areas and research work at UConn, Yale and in private industry.

“The critical mass is here. The quality of science is here. The concentration and the will to have this happen is here,” Liu said, according to The Associated Press.

Jackson Lab’s talk of expanding to Florida briefly became a campaign issue in last year’s gubernatorial campaign in Maine as some candidates suggested that Maine officials were not doing enough to bring a project of that size to the state.

But Hewett said Friday that the type of research that will be conducted at the new facility can only be done in close partnership with teaching and research hospitals as well as a medical school. Additionally, such an endeavor takes hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, all of which Maine could not offer.

That said, Hewett reiterated Friday that Jackson Lab remains committed to Maine and the Bar Harbor facility, as evidenced by the nearly 200 new jobs added in recent years and the massive expansion of the research space in Bar Harbor.

“My hope is that we will continue to do that,” he said. “I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t.”

Liu pointed out that Jackson Lab has added 300 positions in Bar Harbor since the institution opened a facility in Sacramento, Calif., in 2000. Jackson Lab currently employs roughly 1,400 people.

The Connecticut project must be reviewed by that state’s legislature because the state has pledged nearly $300 million in financial support for the research facility. Jackson Lab plans to provide $800 million toward the project over the next 20 years through federal grants, private donations and the institution’s own accounts.

If all remains on schedule, the lab would open in 2014, Jackson Lab officials said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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