This article has been updated with comments from a Jackson Lab official.
By Alex Philippidis
NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Jackson Laboratory will begin a search for a successor to President and CEO Richard Woychik, following an announcement that he will step down from the position he has held since 2002.
The laboratory's Board of Trustees will meet soon to decide on details of the search, including who will conduct it. Woychik has agreed to continue in his position pending the appointment of his successor.
Michael Hyde, Jackson Lab's vice president for advancement and external relations, told GenomeWeb Daily News today the board had "absolutely not" asked Woychik to leave, and was satisfied with his performance as president and CEO.
"There are absolutely no performance issues involved in this matter. It is strictly a matter of an eminent scientist who has done a great job for the lab, who is thinking about moving on to the next chapter of his life — nothing bigger or smaller than that," said Hyde.
Also playing no role, Hyde added, was a patent infringement claim filed in February, then re-filed today in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, against Jackson Lab and six co-defendants, including drug developers Elan and Eli Lilly, by the Alzheimer's Institute of America.
"Rick felt that after almost eight years in the job, that it was probably time for fresh leadership," Hyde said. "Rick feels like he accomplished what he came here to accomplish, and it's time for the next chapter."
Woychick echoed those sentiments in the statement Jackson Lab issued Monday announcing his intent to leave his position. "When I came to the Laboratory seven years ago, my goals were to stabilize the Laboratory's finances and to explore new areas of scientific research. We have achieved these goals, creating a firm foundation upon which the organization can build.
"It is time for new leadership to take the Laboratory to the next level of excellence," Woychik added.
Jackson Lab "will seek a preeminent scientist of international stature to lead the Lab into the future," Brian Wruble, the chairman of the laboratory's board of trustees, said in the statement.
Asked if that indicated a preference for someone from overseas or someone from outside the organization to succeed Woychik, Hyde told GWDN, "The Jackson Lab has an international reputation and an increasingly international presence. Now with our West Coast facility, it is much more of a continent-wide force than we were a few years ago. And I think that our next leader needs to be somebody who can maintain our place in that global community."
Woychik oversaw an expansion of facilities at Jackson Lab's main campus in Bar Harbor, Maine, as well as the expansion of its Jackson Laboratory-West site in Sacramento, Calif., where an 85,000-square-foot facility opened last year following a $40 million renovation. The laboratory has spent just over $80 million on new facilities, including construction of more than 118,000 square feet of new research and support spaces, as well as renovation of an additional 70,000 square feet.
Construction is in progress on a three-story, 22,500-square-foot research building in Maine that will house a new importation and isolation facility, including a receiving center for mouse models from other research institutions. The existing facility will be converted into additional R&D space. The new facility is set to be completed in November 2010, and begin operations the following spring, Hyde said.
Hyde said Woychik's pending departure would not affect either that construction effort, which he said remains on schedule, or other initiatives. In a January interview with GenomeWeb Daily News, Woychik disclosed plans by the laboratory to complete that mouse transportation building, as well as create a new facility for next-generation, high-throughput sequencing equipment, hire "two to three investigators," and develop a research plan for a planned third facility in Florida during 2010.
Discussions about the Florida site remain ongoing, while the sequencing facility "is coming online and actually beginning to get used a little bit," Hyde said. "There's no rush for us to do anything. All of our plans are still in place."
In October, Woychik announced that Jackson Lab was considering creation of a campus in or near Naples, Fla., following three years of cultivating relationships with the region's business and political leaders. The Florida facility would house a new institute focused on personalized medicine.
"He said to me on several occasions in the last couple of weeks that his main focus right now is to make sure that we carry through on the initiatives that we started. The Florida expansion opportunity is particularly near and dear to his heart, and to make sure that the transition to new leadership is smooth," Hyde told GWDN.
In the statement, the Jackson Lab noted that during Woychik's tenure, it has grown from 1,162 employees in 2002 to 1,318 today, while its budget has increased to $170 million from $103.8 million eight years ago.