Leroy Hood & Team Walk into South Lake Union With Plans to Grow

8/18/10Follow @xconomy

Leroy Hood is a walker. Now the biotech pioneer is going to be able to walk around in a very productive way.

Once Hood and the rest of the Institute for Systems Biology team moves to South Lake Union next spring, he will be able to walk around the halls of a single building with more than enough room for his entire team at the nonprofit institute. He can also walk to meet most of the top biologists in Seattle at a half-dozen institutions, all within a 10-minute radius. He could even leave his Toyota Prius at home and walk all the way to work, if he wants.

“From our Belltown condo, it’s probably about a 20 to 25-minute walk,” Hood says, referring to his new office at the former Rosetta Inpharmatics building in South Lake Union. “I might do it.”

Hood, who has more energy at age 71 than a lot of entrepreneurs in their 30s, told me almost two years ago in a profile that he’s doing some of the most exciting work in his storied career. Today he talked about moving into a new home that will really allow his Institute to spread its wings like never before. Hood, a pioneer of the genomics age and a co-founder of 14 biotech companies at last count, has channeled most of his energy the past decade into his vision of “P4 Medicine” at the nonprofit institute. This effort struggled at times in its early years to get the financing Hood and co-founders Reudi Aebersold and Alan Aderem dreamed of, but it has been on such a roll the past couple years that Paul Allen’s Vulcan Real Estate considered it a creditworthy replacement to move into the building that formerly housed Merck’s Rosetta Inpharmatics unit.

The move was partly made because of necessity. The Institute for Systems Biology had outgrown its headquarters near Gas Works Park on the north shore of Lake Union, which forced it to move administrative staff to a neighboring building in Fremont that was about a 10-minute walk away. For an institution that prides itself on fostering cross-disciplinary team science, to tackling problems that are far more complicated than traditional studies of one gene or one protein at a time, getting split up like that was really untenable, to hear Hood tell the story.

As the Institute was getting started in 2000, it ran into major roadblocks when it was crammed into a too-small facility near the University of Washington, along Roosevelt Way. The team needed to be split in two buildings, Hood says. Aderem, quoted in the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce in 2002, called the old facility a “rabbit warren.”

“It was a disaster,” Hood says.

That problem was solved, for a few years anyway, at the Institute’s new building at North Lake Union. The nonprofit Institute moved into a state-of-the-art 65,000 square foot facility in 2001, with postcard views of Lake Union and the downtown skyline. It’s such a distinctive view that Hood had his official biography picture taken with that view in the backdrop.

“I’ve always loved the views here,” Hood says. “I’ll miss it.”

But over the past couple years, as the Institute grew to test its “P4 Medicine” ambitions with a $100 million, five-year line of support from the government of Luxembourg, some of the same organizational problems cropped up as in the early days. Hood says he didn’t like having the administrative staff move out of the headquarters building, just so there would be room for the scientists. Having the team spread among two buildings was … Next Page »

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