BAR HARBOR, Maine — After years of wanting to expand into China, The Jackson Laboratory announced Tuesday at its headquarters here that it will partner will Wenzhou Medical University on clinical genomics research.
The collaboration is expected to provide Jackson Lab with access to the clinical experience and medical prowess of the university and its hospitals, while university physicians should benefit from the lab’s research and scientific expertise, lab officials said in a news release. Together, the organizations will seek to better understand the roles genes play in disease and to focus on creating individualized therapies for cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.
Jackson Lab officials said they expect to hire 375 to 600 positions in the port city of Wenzhou, with about 100 of those jobs being created in the first of the collaboration’s two phases. During the second phase, the lab would build its own laboratory in a planned R&D incubator in Wenzhou for the biomedical industry. Lab officials did not provide a timetable for the project.
Charles Hewett, the lab’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said Tuesday in an email that despite concerns raised in recent years about the integrity of Chinese scientific research, Jackson Lab officials are confident that the new partnership will help advance the lab’s mission of discovering precise genomic solutions for disease and improving human health worldwide.
“This preliminary collaborative research agreement is the result of many years of discussion and evaluation of potential research partners in China and is based on mutual trust,” Hewett said. “The employees [Jackson Lab] hires in Wenzhou will be trained by our U.S.-based scientists and will be held to the same values and expectations that are the fabric of The Jackson Laboratory.”
Two years ago, at a function in Bangor, Hewett said that the research and mouse sales opportunities in China were becoming too big to ignore.
“They’re spending money on research,” Hewett said at a gathering hosted by the Action Committee of 50. “When you ask the real value of what our government spends on biomedical research, that’s declined every year for the last seven years.”
China, he added, is boosting its research funding 15 to 20 percent per year.
And if Jackson Lab doesn’t find a way to sell its specially bred biomedical research mice in the booming Chinese market, Hewett said, its competitors will.
Jackson Laboratory “mice today are the world standard,” Hewett said in 2014. “If China keeps on growing and we don’t raise and sell our mice [there] soon, somebody else is going take advantage of our ability.”
Establishing a presence in the Chinese research market has been on the lab’s radar since at least 2011, when it hired Hong Kong native Edison Liu as its president and chief executive officer.
In the lab’s statement, Liu said the scale at which Jackson Lab and the Chinese university will be able to work with each other will help advance the lab’s mission of discovering precise genomic solutions for fighting or preventing disease.
“With such scale and coordinated action, we can resolve some of the most complex questions in genomic medicine,” Liu said.
The Jackson Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institution known for its research into human disease and for breeding scientifically engineered mice for biomedical research around the globe.
Based in Bar Harbor, the lab also has a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center, a facility in Sacramento, California, and a genomic medicine institute in Farmington, Connecticut. It employs 1,800 people, including about 1,200 in Bar Harbor.