CT forgives bulk of Jax debt four years early

BY Matt Pilon

Matt Pilon
Matt Pilon
The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington.
The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine's Farmington research facility is now nearly debt free, at least as far as the state is concerned.

Connecticut Innovations' board of directors voted June 26 to write off a loan balance of approximately $165.9 million, which Jax used for construction, fit-out and equipment for its the personalized medicine facility, which opened in 2014.

The facility represents one of the largest single investments made by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration and is aimed at boosting Connecticut's bioscience and research profile.

The loan balance forgiven late last month represents approximately 86 percent of the $192 million in total forgivable loans the state dangled to incentivize Jax to invest in and build its 183,500-square-foot facility, which is located on the UConn Health campus, and to create hundreds of jobs.

The state also pledged an additional $99 million in research and development grants.

The recent loan forgiveness, which the quasi-public CI said came after a stringent audit of Jax's employee counts and other records, was well ahead of schedule, as the agreement gave Jax until 2022 to meet hiring and other targets inked in a 2012 agreement with CI, administrator of the state's bioscience fund.

State officials have projected Jax's capital and research budget to total $1.1 billion over a 20-year period.

The targets in Jax's deal with CI included sustaining 300 full-time positions for a period of six months, at least 90 of which must be senior scientists with certain salary minimums. In a recent letter to CI, Chuck Hewett, executive vice president at Maine-based Jackson Laboratory, reported that the Farmington facility had employed approximately 331 people over a six-month period ending June 26. There's been hiring within those six months, as Jax's current workforce numbers 385 total researchers, technicians and staff. That figure includes 142 senior scientists.

There was no public announcement or fanfare over CI's loan forgiveness vote, which was recorded in its latest board of directors meeting minutes.

"We are pleased to have accomplished all of our key milestones four years ahead of schedule and are proud of the important research we are conducting," Charles Lee, scientific director at Jax, said in a statement Thursday. "The laboratory is a catalyst for scientific innovation and economic growth, and we are pursuing new collaborations and initiatives that will transform human health and help establish Connecticut as a bioscience center of excellence."

In a statement, Malloy's spokesperson Kelly Donnelly said the state's investment in Jax had been a wise one.

"This is how we begin to reinvent Connecticut – by propelling our state into the forefront of an emerging industry that is creating hundreds of good-paying jobs in a growing field," Donnelly said. "Our partnership with Jackson Laboratory has been a smart, strategic investment that is paying off in ways that will support growth in the region for many years to come. Through this partnership, we've sent a loud and clear message around the world to companies and research institutes that we are ready, willing and able to be the right location for this up-and-coming industry. We look forward to a forthcoming announcement to highlight the success of this partnership."

Jax has just under $26 million remaining in forgivable CI loans, which Hewett said the organization intends to draw upon. Since Jax has fulfilled its hiring obligations to the state, the forgiveness of the remaining loans would not be tied to any additional metrics, CI said.

CI CEO Matt McCooe said Thursday that Jax has shown "significant progress" in recent years.

"In addition to exceeding their hiring goals, they have significantly increased the amount of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding they've received in the last year," McCooe said. "They have also created collaborations and partnerships, which will continue to lead to new innovations in the bioscience industry."