Listening to Charles E. Hewett, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Jackson Laboratory, confidence grows that the state made the right gamble when it agreed to spend $291 million to persuade the company to build its Genomic Research Center in Farmington. The facility will house 300 biomedical researchers, technicians and support staff in state-of-the-art computing facilities and laboratories.
Mr. Hewett on Wednesday addressed the SBIR & Global Trade Summit being held at the Mohegan Sun Convention Center. The two-day event concludes today. The Connecticut SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) event provides the opportunity for representatives of businesses big and small to share information, searching for potential partnerships, collaborations or subcontracting opportunities.
It was the perfect setting for Mr. Hewett and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who spoke at the opening of the event, to make their case for the concept behind the Jackson Laboratory investment.
"Connecticut is back in the game," Malloy said.
Yet, if the state were talking only the 300 research jobs at the facility the investment would amount to $970,000 per job, far too much.
The gamble pays off if the investment in the growth of this cutting-edge, nonprofit research institute spins off other private business development and secures Connecticut a position as a leader in this emerging field. Mr. Hewett's presentation provided reasons to be excited about that prospect.
The kind of work planned at the Jackson Laboratory facility - developing genomic-based personalized medicine - will revolutionize the treatment and prevention of disease. By tailor-making treatment to each individual's genome - the DNA blueprint for each person's body - doctors will be able prescribe specially engineered drugs in precise doses. And because an individual's genome influences his or her likelihood of developing, or avoiding, future medical problems, personalized medicine will allow steps to be taken in advance to reduce, perhaps even eliminate, those health threats through lifestyle practices, prescribed medications or a combination of both.
Jackson Laboratory expects its new Farmington facility, expected to open in 2014, to be a leader in helping fulfill the potential of genomic-based personalized medicine. There is a lot of money to be made - Price-Waterhouse estimates a market as big as $139 billion by 2015 with potential for rapid growth. It makes sense that a cluster of bioscience firms would be attracted to Connecticut to capitalize on, expand upon and support this new field.
Connecticut recently witnessed Pfizer move several hundred jobs to its research facilities in Cambridge, Mass. The governor was correct that Connecticut needed to take bold steps to change that trend, to make the state a place that was attracting, not losing such forward-looking, well-paying jobs.
If this gamble pays off, Connecticut will find itself a major player in developing an exciting future for medicine.