NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — The National Center for Genome Resources has laid off around one-third of its staff as it shifts its focus from bioinformatics and software development to DNA sequencing, GenomeWeb Daily News has learned.
NCGR CEO Stephen Kingsmore announced the plans to his staff last Tuesday, and the lay-offs took place two days later, according to people familiar with the event.
The lay-offs consisted almost entirely of software engineers on the bioinformatics side of the business, including Scott Wolff, director of software engineering. Remaining staffers include business-operation employees and a handful of informatics researchers who will contribute to NCGR’s DNA sequencing work.
Also, Bill Beavis, chief science officer and second in command at the Santa Fe, NM, lab, will leave NCGR to become a professor of plant genomics at Iowa State University, his alma mater, according to an official at the school. His tenure begins in mid-August.
“We were told that were having trouble winning [government] grants, and our PIs thought it would be best if we [abandoned] the cyberinfrastructure/bioinformatics/software-engineering type of business model, and that we should put all our efforts into the sequencing model,” according to one laid-off researcher, who asked to remain anonymous because he does not want to jeopardize future employment.
Specifically, NCGR recently learned that it had not won a grant under the National Science Foundation’s $50 million Plant Science Cyberinfrastructure Collaborative program, the researcher said, noting that since “all of our eggs were in that one basket … we’re not going to be able to support everyone.”
The NSF said it does not comment on pending awards.
According to this individual, Kingsmore told his staff that because the NCGR has had difficulty obtaining “significant” government grants in general over the past few years that it would be in NCGR’s best interest “to get away from that whole software-engineering thing and become a sequencing center.”
It was not immediately clear if the NCGR plans to hire sequencing staff to replace the informatics employees.
According to income tax returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service, NCGR’s revenue from government grants grew 38 percent to $3.6 million between 2003 and 2004, and 11 percent to $4 million in 2005, the most recent time for which figures are available.
According to the documents, Kingsmore received $326,986 in salary and benefits in 2005. Around 28 percent of this total figure went to “fundraising” responsibilities, 16 percent went to “program services,” and around 56 percent went to “management and general.”
Last week’s move fortifies plans NCGR disclosed in January to create a sequencing center with the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. At that time the NCGR had secured $600,000 from the state to buy its first sequencer for the center, called the New Mexico Genome Sequencing Center. The center is seeking another $1.1 million in federal funds.
“Everybody [at NCGR] who was kept has something to do with sequencing,” another former employee said.
This source, who also asked to remain anonymous because he does not want to endanger future employment, said that the only informatics component that will remain at NCGR will be related to genome assembly and databasing.
The source also said that Kingsmore “is looking” to hire a chief financial officer in order to free him up to do more PI work.
When reached earlier this week, Kingsmore declined to comment. He could not be reached for comment today. Repeated telephone calls to other NCGR executives went repeatedly to voicemail.
-- Matt Jones contributed to this article.