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November 1, 2021 Startups, Innovation & Technology

New Jackson Lab CEO Cardon eyes expansion of Farmington campus, more spinoffs

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Jackson Lab’s Farmington campus.

With an eye toward possible expansion of The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, new spinoffs and possibly new hires down the road, longtime researcher and academic Dr. Lon Cardon will take the helm as president and CEO of the seven-year-old growing facility on Nov. 29.

The 56-year-old Cardon — who is currently the chief science strategic officer of California-based BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc. — will replace current president and CEO Dr. Edison Liu.

Cardon, who currently lives in northern California, said he plans on taking up residence in the Farmington area and will split his time — primarily — between Connecticut and the Bar Harbor, Maine headquarters of Jackson Laboratory, which is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institution that was founded in 1929.

“I see myself spending, on average, two weeks a month in Farmington,” said the 56-year-old Cardon, who discussed with the Hartford Business Journal his plans for Jackson Lab’s Connecticut outpost, where researchers and scientists emphasize the translational side of genetics with a goal of finding cures for cancer and rare diseases.

The Farmington campus also works on technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Dr. Lon Cardon

“Every genetics researcher is familiar with Jackson Lab’s reputation, which is outstanding and stellar,” Cardon said. “I’m most excited about the opportunity in front of us to build on that long-standing depth and strength in genetics.”

Farmington expansion

Long term, Cardon said he doesn’t plan any major changes in the Farmington location’s trajectory on how it does business, saying “very good progress has been made already. In very real terms, the commitment to cancer, and pediatric childhood cancer are areas of real progress.”

Currently, Cardon said, the research being conducted in Farmington deals with finding predictors of COVID-19 severity, as well as cancer and Alzheimer’s research.

“One opportunity that I see is the geographic location with the building attached to the University of Connecticut School of Medicine,” he said.

An issue for some time, Cardon acknowledged, is the lack of remaining space in the 183,500-square-foot Farmington facility, which sits atop a 17-acre parcel of land.

The $115 million property debuted in 2014. The master plan for the site adjacent to Jackson Lab’s Farmington research center contemplates a future addition of up to 150,000 square feet, the timing of which will be dictated by demand and funding availability, the nonprofit said.

“Another location and expansion are possible,” Cardon said. “It’s something we will look actively at over the initial portion of my term. We are running out of space, which is finite. We will soon reach capacity.”

To that end, more employees could be added down the road, he said.

Currently, there are about 450 employees at the Farmington campus; The Jackson Laboratory employs 3,000 employees worldwide.

Jackson Lab’s Farmington facility was deemed a major economic-development win for former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose administration wooed and negotiated a major incentive deal with the nonprofit.

Connecticut lawmakers in 2011 agreed to provide Jackson Lab $291 million in state loans and grants to construct the facility and create 300 bioscience jobs. Jackson Lab surpassed that job target in July 2018, four years ahead of schedule.

That state funding approval did come with controversy as it was opposed by some Republicans who called it excessive.

Jackson Lab officials said the nonprofit’s total economic impact in Connecticut last year was $133.6 million, and that included revenue to Connecticut vendors and more than 150 indirect jobs, which were in addition to the 450 people now working at the site.

The Farmington campus last year also debuted its first spinoff: General Biomics, which is working on issues related to patients with asthma conditions. More spinoffs are coming, Cardon said.

“Spinoffs at the Farmington site have been successful,” he said. “There is another in the works. It is in stealth mode now, but it is something we will actively pursue,” and will likely launch in early 2022, he said.

Biotech veteran

Besides Farmington, The Jackson Laboratory also has a presence in Sacramento, California; Bar Harbor, Ellsworth and Augusta, Maine; Shanghai, China; and a joint venture in Beijing.

Earlier this month it acquired a Japanese subdivision of a Massachusetts pharmaceutical company specializing in drug discovery and development. The operation — which has around 250 employees and administrative offices in Yokohama, Japan — will be renamed The Jackson Laboratory Japan.

That purchase is vital in continuing to make the work Jackson Lab does global in nature, Cardon said.

“This acquisition is a natural extension of The Jackson Laboratory’s mission to empower the global biomedical community in our shared quest to improve human health and represents a significant milestone in our global expansion as we help enable researchers in Japan to make important scientific advances in drug discovery and basic research,” Cardon said.

Timothy Dattels, vice chairperson of Jackson Lab’s board of trustees and chair of the presidential search committee, said Cardon was the clear favorite to take over as president and chief executive officer.

“Lon has impeccable academic credentials in both genetics and computational work,” said Dattels, who noted the search process took more than nine months with the committee evaluating 400 applications. “Lon is an accomplished human geneticist and demonstrated leader in pharma and biotech research. This experience, coupled with a strong computational background and firm understanding of business issues, makes him extremely well-suited to build upon the success of The Jackson Laboratory and help write its next chapter.”

State Sen. Rick Lopes (D-New Britain) represents Farmington and surrounding communities in the state legislature.

While the Farmington campus didn’t open until Oct. 2014, its impact on the community in those seven short years has been immeasurable, Lopes said.

“It adds to the corridor of the bioscience sector we are developing right here in Connecticut,” Lopes said. “They are collaborating with UConn Health, Yale and all of the other bioscience leaders in the state to develop and identify problems using genetics to come up with tailor-made treatments for horrible diseases like cancer. They are great employees and great partners for the community.”

Cardon, a 14-year veteran of the biotech and genetics industry, worked as a senior vice president at GlaxoSmithKline before joining BioMarin Pharmaceutical in 2017.

Cardon has authored more than 225 scientific publications and 15 books and chapters. Those writings focused on genetics methodology and applications and discoveries for both rare and common diseases, Jackson Lab said.

Cardon received his Ph.D. from the Institute for Behavioral Genetics at the University of Colorado in 1992 and conducted his postdoctoral research in the Department of Mathematics at Stanford University.

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