April 06, 2020

Jackson Lab launches new biotechnology firm

TRENTON – Millions and millions of mice have been bred at Jackson Laboratory since its founding in 1929, but on Monday the lab officially created something that it had never given life to before.

Bar Harbor Biotechnology, the first commercial entity the nonprofit lab has ever spun off in its 77-year history, was ceremonially launched in the former Display Concepts building on Route 3, which the lab leases and uses primarily for storage space.

About 100 people attended the event, including Gov. John Baldacci and a handful of state politicians and federal representatives who wanted to draw attention to the amount of money Maine has invested in research and development in recent years.

The four-employee startup biotechnology firm, which will specialize in helping scientists develop genetic profiles of biological tissue, is one of several entities that have benefited from $30 million the state has invested in scientific research, according to Jackson Lab Director Rick Woychik. As a result of the state investment, another $200 million in research and development funds has come to Maine from federal and private sources, he said.

Derry Roopenian, a senior staff scientist at the lab and the new firm’s chief scientific officer, said he and his colleagues have been working for the past six years on improving the techniques by which scientists can examine specific genetic changes in biological tissue. As he and his fellow researchers developed an improved method by which they could track the before-and-after changes in diseased tissue, he said, other scientists at the lab and even at other institutions began asking for their help in creating similar genetic profiles for their projects.

“It kind of evolved,” Roopenian said. “It all happened as part of the research I normally do at Jackson Lab.”

Bar Harbor Biotechnology will produce small kits, or trays, that are slightly bigger than a small deck of cards. The kits will be able to help create profiles for hundreds of genes at a time and will be made for specific scientific projects such as studying autoimmune deficiency, leukemia, or other cancers, according to Roopenian.

The firm also will perform genetic profiling services for scientists and hopes eventually to be able to offer clinical services for hospitals and physicians, he said.

Baldacci said the launch of Bar Harbor Biotechnology shows that it makes good business sense to invest in research and development.

“The benefits we get as a state from research and development are tremendous,” the governor said. “This is a great day in Maine, particularly in Down East Maine.”

The company has goals of employing 10 employees by the end of its first year and having a net value of $50 million by the end of 2011.

Initial funding for the startup is being invested by Borealis Ventures of Hanover, N.H., which focuses on new technology companies in northern New England.

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