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Jackson Lab Eyes Expansion into Florida

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Three years after forging the first of its relationships with business and political leaders in and around Naples, Fla., the Jackson Laboratory is considering the region as a possible site for a third facility that would house a new institute focused on personalized medicine.

"The community's outreach to the laboratory was certainly a factor" in the Jackson Lab's decision to study the feasibility of expanding into the Naples area, Joyce Peterson, a spokeswoman for the genetics research institute, told GenomeWeb Daily News.

"We hope to make the decision whether to proceed by summer 2010," Peterson added.

She said the goals of the new institute include applying whole genome sequencing and bioinformatics to discover the genetic basis of human disease and health; translating its research findings into treatments through collaborations with clinical practitioners, researchers, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and "leading" medical institutions; providing tools and techniques to other researchers worldwide; and carrying out public education about personalized medicine.

Jackson Lab has drawn financial and other support in the three years since it first connected with the Naples Business Roundtable, whose members include local corporations and individual business and civic leaders. The research institute is one of three nonprofits that benefit from the Earl Morrall/NFL Alumni Celebrity Charity Golf Classic, held annually in Naples.

Naples is one of five regions in the US where Jackson Lab has chapters of its National Council, whose members have all donated at least $1,000 to, and served as advocates for, the research institute. In the fiscal year that ended May 31, 2008, according to its 2008 annual report, Jackson Lab received $9.3 million in private gifts and grants, up from $8.5 million the previous fiscal year — but private donations accounted for only about 6 percent of the laboratory's $160.2 million FY 2008 budget.

In June, Collier County (Fla.) Commissioner Fred Coyle, a Republican seeking re-election next year, joined Tammie Nemecek, the CEO of the Economic Development Council of Collier County, in visiting Jackson Lab's Bar Harbor, Me., campus, the Naples News reported in June.

As of late last week, Peterson told GWDN, Jackson Lab representatives had held "preliminary discussions" with Collier County officials about the new facility. Coyle did not return an e-mail message from GWDN seeking information about the county government's effort to attract Jackson Lab.

Another factor in Jackson Lab's interest in the Naples area, Peterson said, was Florida's ability during this decade to attract a half dozen research institutes — the result of more than $1 billion in state and local tax breaks. One of those institutes, the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, on Oct. 8 celebrated the grand opening of its new $85 million, 175,000-square-foot building within the 600-acre 'Medical City' at the Lake Nona mixed-use, master-planned community in Orlando.

If the Jackson Lab proceeds with expansion to the Naples area, or somewhere else, it would be the genetics research institute's third location. Jackson Lab now bases some 1,300 staffers at its 160-acre Bar Harbor campus, which adjoins Acadia National Park, and about another 90 people at its 85,000-square-foot Jackson Laboratory-West facility in Sacramento, Calif., which officially opened in May following a $40 million renovation.

The Maine workforce shrunk this past spring, when Jackson Lab laid off 55 employees and cut the hours of 315 hourly workers, citing the economy. But by August, the full schedules of hourly workers was restored, with Jackson's Chief Operating Officer Charles Hewett telling the Bangor Daily News he was able to do so in part because of a 7 percent year-over-year jump since June in revenue tied to its breeding of mice for other labs worldwide.

On Aug. 5, the research center broke ground 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. Construction is set to be completed in November 2010, with operation to begin the following spring.

The new building's first construction phase is being funded with $4.7 million from the $50 million Maine Technology Asset Fund, a competitive award program funded by bonds approved by state voters in 2007, and run by the state-funded private nonprofit group Maine Technology Institute.

In addition, last month, Jackson Lab won $2.1 million in funds from the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act toward expanding its computational facility and growing its staff over the next five years. The laboratory will grow from 38 research groups to 45 over the next four to five years, Peterson said.

"Although we are considering a new branch in Florida, our core operations will stay in Maine," Jackson Lab President and CEO Rick Woychik said in Jackson Lab's Oct. 14 statement announcing its feasibility study of a "southwest Florida" site.

"We want to assure our employees, friends, and neighbors that any expansion will be designed to complement our existing scientific capabilities here," he said. "We will maintain and grow our existing programs and facilities in Maine and California."

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