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Scripps Seeks New President to Succeed Richard Lerner

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — The Scripps Research Institute has begun advertising for candidates to succeed Richard Lerner, who will retire as president of the organization some time next year.

Lerner will remain on the faculty of Scripps and continue to head his own laboratory at the institute after he retires as president to, Douglas Bingham, Scripps' executive vice president and chief operating officer, told GenomeWeb Daily News on Thursday.

"The search committee plans to try to have a candidate identified by early next year, with a transition to happen some time thereafter," Bingham said. "Richard is the president until the actual transition details and timing are worked out."

Bingham spoke days after Scripps posted an online advertisement for Lerner's position in Cell, part of a search being conducted by a search committee and consultant Russell Reynolds Associates. Scripps announced a succession plan to guide its selection of a successor in 2006, with Lerner at the time saying he would continue to run the institute for the following five years, then serve as chairman for two years before returning to full-time research in his laboratory.

"The transition has been fairly straightforward and low-key," Bingham said.

According to the advertisement, Scripps' president will provide "not only scientific vision, but full fiduciary responsibility" for all aspects of Scripps' campuses in La Jolla, Calif., and Jupiter, Fla.

Qualifications for the post include "a well-established national and international reputation as a scientist in any of the key TSRI disciplines such as structural biology, chemistry, cell biology, etc.," as well as "a record of progressively responsible management of programs of considerable scale and complexity."

"He/she will build on the strengths of the Institute through an astute understanding of the opportunities inherent in emerging breakthroughs, the recruitment of biomedical leaders who can capitalize on these fruitful areas, and provision of appropriate cutting-edge technologies," the advertisement stated.

Lerner, 71, arrived at a predecessor to the institute, the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation, in 1965 as a postdoctoral fellow, after graduating from Northwestern University and Stanford University School of Medicine, and completing his internship at Stanford Hospital.

From 1982 to 1986, Lerner chaired the department of molecular biology of another TSRI predecessor, The Research Institute of Scripps Clinic, before being appointed director of the Research Institute in 1987. Four years later, when the institute was incorporated as a separate nonprofit entity and took its current name, Lerner became its first president.

As Scripps Research's top official, he oversaw the growth of the Institute La Jolla lab space from about 300,000 square feet in1987 to more than 1 million square feet today, and an increase in staff from 700 to more than 3,000.

Under Lerner, Scripps expanded into Florida by building a campus focused on biomedical research, technology development, and drug design. The 350,000-square-foot campus opened last year, six years after then-Gov. Jeb Bush persuaded Scripps to expand east, then helping to craft a combined $600 million package of tax breaks and other subsidies by the state and Palm Beach County. In return for the incentives, Scripps agreed to create at least 545 jobs by 2013.

Scripps was the first of a half-dozen research institutes to be showered with more than $1 billion dollars in combined state and local largesse by Florida, which has sought to diversify its economy beyond tourism and agriculture.

Lerner holds faculty positions as Lita Annenberg Hazen professor of immunochemistry, and as Cecil H. and Ida M. Green chair in chemistry, as well as a joint appointment in molecular biology with Scripps' Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology.

Lerner's lab studies the development of catalytic antibodies, seeking to understand how the binding energy of proteins can be utilized to facilitate chemical transformations. The lab also examines the application of catalytic antibodies as versatile, molecular tools in areas such as chemical synthesis, drug delivery, and bactericidal action through the water oxidation pathway, according to its website.

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