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

8/18/10Follow @xconomy

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manageable, for a while anyway. “It was less of a disaster,” Hood says. “But I’d like to bring everybody back together again.”

Now the Institute is gearing up for the move into the Rosetta building at 401 Terry Avenue North, which has 140,000 square feet of space—double the current facility’s capacity—which will have room for 330 ISB employees and more to come in the future. This will enable all the scientists and the administrative side of the Institute to be under the same roof again. The building will also be able to accommodate the Institute as it grows over the next five years, Hood says. The plan is to grow the faculty roster from 12 today to about 20 over the next six to 10 years, he says. The Institute plans to recruit more top talent from the ranks of biologists, technology developers, and computer scientists, Hood says. The new facility will offer more room for equipment to study metabolomics, and to perform sophisticated imaging experiments—a couple of capabilities that are lacking at the Institute, Hood says.

What might even be most important is the ability to do all that walking around mentioned above. When I asked Hood about the benefits of being able to walk to meet scientific peers—rather than get in a car from North Lake Union and drive 10 to 15 minutes and then find parking—he agreed that it makes a difference in facilitating interactions. He noted that parking can be a hassle in South Lake Union, but he’s excited about being within walking distance of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the University of Washington’s South Lake Union labs, the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, Amazon’s new headquarters, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s new headquarters that’s under construction.

The move should take place in April, Hood says. It shouldn’t be too disruptive to ongoing experiments, he says. “We’ve done it before,” Hood says.

For an Institute that had plenty of critics in its early days, it’s really quite a statement that Hood & team were able to pull this off. In its early days, the Institute was written off as “just a crazy way to raise money,” by skeptics of the whole systems biology movement. It’s true that Hood’s bold vision of taking pinpricks of blood and extracting rich digital information on a person’s health and wellness hasn’t yet gained traction in the healthcare system. And anyone who says they know when this might happen is probably full of baloney.

Still, the ISB has secured enough competitive federal grants, and donations, to support a $50 million annual budget, and a growth plan to go to 500 employees in the next decade. When Paul Allen’s Vulcan looked for something to fill the void created by a gold-standard tenant like Merck, with billions in free cash flow, it apparently considered the books of the Institute for Systems Biology sound enough to be able to make rent payments on a trophy property for years to come.

“The ISB is really in strong financial shape,” Hood says. “This growth will let us push our vision of P4 Medicine further, in more effective ways. It’s a terrific opportunity.”

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