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JAX—West expands into a stellar new facility to meet the needs of West Coast customers.

Westward ho!

by Tom Walsh / Photography by William Foster

Willie Sutton had a very good reason for robbing banks.

"That's where the money is," the legendary stickup artist once told a reporter.

That same bulletproof logic underpins the recent relocation and major expansion of The Jackson Laboratory—West, the California satellite facility of the Bar Harbor, Maine-based Laboratory.

"Just look at all the East Coast biomedical research that goes on between Maine and the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes all the medical centers in Boston, the New York-New Jersey area and the National Institutes of Health centers around Washington," says Jackson Laboratory President and CEO Richard Woychik, Ph.D. "All that represents only half of the biomedical research that goes on in California. The West Coast biomedical research community is an exciting community, and we're becoming a bigger part of it."

For the last eight years, The Jackson Laboratory has met the needs of its growing mix of academic and pharmaceutical customers in California and other Western states through a leased facility in West Sacramento. Earlier this year, those operations were moved a few miles into newly renovated space designed to maximize quality and accommodate growing demand for a wide range of products and services. That $40 million investment also saw JAX—West's headcount double from a staff of 40 to about 80.

The new facility will expedite maintenance and delivery of a wider variety of JAX® Mice, Clinical & Research Services' lab mice to researchers in academic and commercial laboratories, including strains that were once trucked cross-country. That can be a stressful journey for a mouse, spanning four time zones and 3,287 miles, 40 miles farther than the distance between Bar Harbor and Paris.

The JAX—West expansion represents "a serious commitment to better meeting the needs of researchers in this hotbed of scientific research."

"We can now provide mice to West Coast researchers on shorter notice," says Charles Hewett, Ph.D., The Jackson Laboratory's vice president and chief operating officer. "We now have the capability of providing many of our most popular mice within 24 to 48 hours, versus eight to 10 days. This capability also lowers the cost per mouse by as much as 25 percent."

Sandy Paige, the new facility's senior director, says the JAX—West expansion represents "a serious commitment to better meeting the needs of researchers in this hotbed of scientific research.

"What all this means to us is that we have an expanded, growing and vibrant West Coast presence," Paige says. "We're now better positioned to collaborate in basic research with the California research community, which is an important sector in what is the world's fifth largest economy. California is home to the largest concentration of mouse-based research in the world. California-based research is consistently at the top of the list for National Institutes of Health grants, by far.

Beyond providing lab mice required for testing new drugs and devising new treatment strategies for a wide range of human diseases, JAX—West can perform such research on a contract basis for clients that don't have—or don't want to have—their own in-house research centers stocked with laboratory mice.

"Creating a vivarium, constructing and maintaining laboratory space, and having the staff required to do complex biomedical research represents a huge investment," Hewett says. "A lot of these companies would prefer to just turn this process on when they need it and turn it off when they don't. We can do that for them."

For more than two years, Seattle-based Qwell Pharmaceuticals has been developing therapeutic compounds for human cancers, and autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, in collaboration with JAX—West. Those ongoing studies, says Qwell President Roger Anderson, are going well.

"I first met with the staff eight months before Qwell began its first study with JAX—West," Anderson says. "The knowledge and professionalism of the staff was without question. All of the study directors were extremely skilled and helpful in crafting study plans, and deadlines were always met. Proposals were always very specific, with well-defined parameters.

"All of our studies, and there have been a number, have been executed per plan," Anderson says. "Project updates were provided on a regular basis. Communication throughout the program has been excellent, and the presentations of study results have been straightforward, clear and concise."

Space within the new facility has been set aside for development of seminar rooms and other venues for educational programming. Just as the Laboratory's Bar Harbor campus has become something of a biomedical mecca for scientists eager to share the insights of their front-line genetics research, the Sacramento facility may one day serve the same role for West Coast researchers. The first such event is a two-day special symposium at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento, to be held on May 5-6 in conjunction with the formal ribbon-cutting ceremony for JAX—West.