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August 24, 2018

Jackson Lab's new Ellsworth production facility now open for business

Photo / Laurie Schreiber From left, U.S. Sen. Angus King's representative Chris Rector, Rep. Bruce Poliquin, recently retired Jackson Laboratory Executive Vice President and COO Charles Hewitt, Gov. Paul LePage, Ellsworth City Council Chairman Marc Blanchette, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins' representative Carol Woodcock and Jackson Laboratory Executive Vice President Auro Nair cut the ribbon of Jackson Laboratory's new vivarium in Ellsworth on Aug. 23.

Jackson Laboratory opened its new Charles E. Hewett Center — a mouse production facility, called a “vivarium” — in Ellsworth on Aug. 23.

“This new Jax mouse production facility represents the largest commercial investment in the history of Ellsworth,” Ellsworth City Council Chairman Marc Blanchette said in his remarks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by almost 200 people. “The city is already seeing a ripple effect of the Jax campus as over 140 new apartment units have been built or approved for construction concurrent with Jax’s two-year construction window. This growth continues to make Ellsworth the fastest-growing city in Maine, according to the 2010 census, at almost 20%, and all indicators continue north. As Jax proceeds with hiring an estimated 350 people, we look forward to growing together the continuation of the wonderful working partnership that has been established over the past five years.”

Jackson Lab broke ground for the 134,900-square-foot facility in August 2016. The five-phase project includes a $150 million investment for phases 1 and 2.

An independent, nonprofit biomedical research institution and National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center based in Bar Harbor, with a facility in Sacramento, Calif., and a genomic medicine institute in Farmington, Conn., Jackson Lab employs 2,100.

The importance of mice to cancer research

Photo / Laurie Schreiber
A view of Jackson Laboratory's new Ellsworth facility.

The center’s namesake, Charles Hewett, was Jackson Lab’s executive vice president and chief operating officer until he retired July 1. He arrived at the company in 2004 and oversaw the launch of numerous research products and services.

In his remarks at Thursday’s ribbon-cutting, Hewitt said it’s hard to overemphasize the importance of mouse models in finding cures for human disease.

“Nowhere in the world is more known about the research mouse, how to raise it, how to use it to solve the most pressing health care problems we face, than within a 50-mile radius of Bar Harbor,” Hewitt said.

Hewitt explained that nearly all of the genes in the mouse share function with genes in the human.

“Mice are small, relatively speaking, they’re inexpensive to house, they’re inexpensive to feed and, best of all perhaps, they breed incredibly quickly,” he said. “Jax pioneered the use of mice in genetic research and we believe very strongly in the importance of this work — work to solve the critical problems of human health and to identify and test better treatments.”

Jackson Lab mice have been distributed to more than 25,000 researchers in more than 1,900 institutions in 75 countries. Researchers may choose from more than 130 common laboratory strains and thousands of strains with specific genetic profiles for disease research and drug efficacy testing.

“Today, this facility in Ellsworth will be the state-of-the-art, next-generation, unmatched facility in the world,” Hewett said.

The facility, he said, is designed to provide the highest standard of animal care and a safe, efficient and productive environment for employees.

“I hope the investment that we’re making here – nearly $150 million in phase 1 and phase 2, and there will be five phases, along with over $100 million we’ve spent in the last several years in Bar Harbor – I hope you’re all convinced that Jax is here to stay,” he said.

Employment will grow

Photo / Laurie Schreiber
Approximately 200 people attended the Aug. 23 ribbon-cutting in Ellsworth.

At the moment, 20 to 25 people are working at the new facility. It will grow within the coming year to 70 employees, and then to 350 in Ellsworth and 135 in Bar Harbor within the coming decade, according to Jackson Lab officials. The space freed up in Bar Harbor will be redeveloped for research and education.

During a separate press tour, Hewitt said the number of mice to be transported from Bar Harbor to Ellsworth will not be large, since it will only involve the breeders.

“And then we’ll build the colonies here,” he said.

The breeders will be transported in proprietary sterile travel cages that are the same as those used when mice are transferred to researchers. “We have to be sure that the mice in those cages are absolutely pristine every time we ship them out,” he said.

Catherine Longley, Jackson Lab’s new executive vice president and chief operating officer, read remarks from Jackson Lab President and CEO Edison Liu, president/CEO, stating: “Ellsworth has long been a gateway to Bar Harbor. Now Ellsworth will be a new gateway connecting Jax to our global partners.”

Gov. Paul LePage said the Ellsworth facility is an “example of a public/private partnership — the federal government, the state government, the local community and Jackson Lab, working together over multiple years to get this project done.”

“Companies like Jackson Lab put our state not only on the research map of this world, but put us into the employment map,” he said. “When we are advocating and trying to attract companies to Maine, Jackson Lab is always in the conversation because they’re e one of the examples we use.”

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