By joining the National Center for Genome Resources as president earlier this year, Stephen Kingsmore has finally found a job that speaks to both his management and technical skills — and, perhaps most significantly, to his desire to work for an organization with a vision more idealistic than just making a profit.
The former COO of New Haven, Conn.-based Molecular Staging and vice president for research at CuraGen, who spent two years looking for the right position before signing up with NCGR, also had a personal quest to fulfill: After two months of suffering from back surgery-induced sepsis, he realized the time had come to return to non-profit human health research.
The timing is right for NCGR, too. The 10-year-old entity, which was founded to provide informatics support to the Human Genome Project, was barred from engaging in human health-related genomics research for several years after the sale of spin-off Molecular Informatics to PE Corp. (now Applied Biosystems) in 1997. Last year, the non-compete clause expired, leaving NCGR free to compete for grants and research collaborations directly related to human health. Today, with Kingsmore as president and Susan Baxter, another new arrival from Cengent (formerly GeneFormatics) as COO, NCGR is again poised to address the big questions of data analysis as they relate to medicine.
Kingsmore’s spent several postdocs and an assistant professorship at the University of Florida engaged in the positional cloning of genes, so it may seem surprising that he’d jump at the chance to run a bioinformatics research institute. But the native of Northern Ireland was intrigued by the challenge of trying to solve many of the as yet intractable problems in biological data analysis. “There are very few groups who get a chance to think about how to serve up information in a way engaging to scientists,” he says. Finding the right tools to prove that a systems biology finding is statistically relevant, among other issues, should provide real, practical benefit to biologists, he adds.
NCGR has already made impressive steps toward boosting its relevance as an institution — even before Kingsmore came on board. Revenue from research grants nearly doubled in 2003 to $2.6 million from the previous year, and conceivably could double again to $5 million in 2004, much to the credit of Bill Beavis, NCGR’s chief scientific officer since 1998.
With this momentum, combined with NCGR’s expertise in plant genomic data analysis — the organization is responsible for resources like The Arabidopsis Information Resource and the Legume Information System — Kingsmore is keen to establish extensive collaborations with industry, particularly ag biotech and pharma companies. As Kingsmore puts it, NCGR is finally moving from “survival to growth mode.”
— John S. MacNeil