Jackson Lab chief says state could benefit from scientific 'ecosystem'

Hartford - One way to make Connecticut a bioscience center of the world is to create a network of scientists, consultants, businesses, hospitals and insurance companies that can assemble and disassemble to attack specific problems, says Edison Liu, president and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory.

"If you develop an ecosystem where these units can quickly talk to each other and benefit from that synergy, you can imagine that will be a competitive advantage over a company starting up in Columbus, Ohio, that can't have this kind of information connectivity," Liu said Friday during a meeting with members of the legislature's newly formed Life Sciences Caucus to discuss Jackson Lab's vision for Connecticut. He said the goal of Jackson Lab is to improve health care and lower health care costs.

By creating incentives for talented people to work together and build an ecosystem of collaboration, the state could have a competitive advantage, Liu said. The vacated Pfizer laboratories could be a place for scientists or consultants in similar fields to work side by side and be a one-stop shop for clients, he added.

The days of focusing on developing brick-and-mortar facilities are over, Liu said. Investing in building capacity, anchoring talent around ideas and creating a network would be the intelligent way to use the $200 million bioscience innovation fund, which is currently being discussed in the legislature, he said.

"More and more (of) the small units are going to have importance," Liu said. And if the state can find ways to reduce the "activation energy" for these small units to be effective, that would help, he added.

One way to reduce the bumps in the road would be for the state to create a framework for bringing people together. Liu said the state could provide incentives and require that milestones be met.

There are many Pfizer executives living in Connecticut because they like it here, but they are also looking for jobs, Liu said.

"What if, with low cost, they are actually given a warehouse that is converted into modular offices?" Liu said. The idea would be for those with similar talents to congregate together.

On Friday, state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had met again with the Pfizer officials.

"We had a meeting to discuss that with Catherine Smith (DECD commissioner) and the governor's chief of staff," Maynard said. "There is forward progress, and I think it's genuine. I don't think it's just the usual feel-good assurance."

Maynard said it was better to have many small firms than to put all the proverbial eggs in one basket - a large corporation that could end up leaving.

"I think that has much more staying power and much more relevance to what Liu is talking about because of those kinds of collaborations that can spontaneously happen through shared research," Maynard said.

Investments are centered around Farmington and the University of Connecticut, but Maynard said his impression was that Jackson Lab was interested in partnering with anyone who could be conducive to research collaborations, including scientists from southeastern Connecticut.

Jackson Lab is in the process of designing tools to make diagnoses based on a person's individual genetic makeup, Liu said. Generally speaking, an improved diagnostic tool can more precisely diagnose a disease and allow doctors to more efficiently provide medicine. This can cut down on costs in the entire health care system and reduce negative side effects, he said.

Jackson Lab is interested in working with hospitals and providing new technology that would more effectively treat patients and therefore attract more patients to the particular hospital, Liu said.

"What we hopefully provide, in a manner they couldn't do themselves, is that kind of genomic innovation in medical care," he said.

j.somers@theday.com

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