With new Systems Biology director, West Campus growth continues

Six years after Yale acquired West Campus to bolster the University’s biomedical research scope, permanent directorships at its six research institutes are almost filled.

After a nearly two-year search, Yale has recruited a director for the West Campus Systems Biology Institute: Andre Levchenko, a former biomedical engineering professor at Johns Hopkins University. Levchenko is the fourth permanent director appointed to date, as the Chemical Biology, Cancer Biology and Nanobiology institutes gained leaders before this academic year. West Campus administrators anticipate they will announce permanent directors for the final two research institues — the Microbial Diversity Institute and the Energy Sciences Institute — later this fall, completing a round of initial hires and appointments that will facilitate accelerated growth on the campus.

“Once leadership is in place, then you can hand it over to them ­— to people who know the field best and are able to provide great perspective,” said Scott Strobel, the vice president for West Campus planning and program development. “I can let them use their best scientific judgment to make good hires.”

In Levchenko, faculty at both Yale and John Hopkins said West Campus has scored a top-notch scientist.

Andrew Ewald, a professor of cell biology at Johns Hopkins who has known Levchenko for 15 years, said Levchenko is a world leader in systems biology who deftly integrates cell biology, information theory and genetics in his research. Johns Hopkins will “miss greatly” Levchenko’s ability to execute complex experiments and think critically and creatively about the results. He was one of the most sought after Ph.D. advisors in the entire biomedical engineering department, Ewald said.

“I think he is really excited about moving to Yale and the opportunity to build on the strength of the medical school and engineering school,” he said. “This was a move because he was so excited about the opportunity. You guys got a terrific scientist.”

Levchenko will hold an appointment in the biomedical engineering department, and department chair Mark Saltzman said the addition of Levchenko brings Yale’s biomedical engineering department — which only became independent in 2003 — on par with any other program in the country. Levchenko brings a “rare” combination of mathematical and experimental talents to Yale, he added.

West Campus offered a unique opportunity for interdisciplinary research, Levchenko said, adding that he has been “incredibly impressed” with its growth rate. The Systems Biology Institute is roughly halfway to meeting its target of 10 to 12 research labs, and Levchenko said he anticipates two faculty hires per year going forward in the institute.

“When I was there over a year ago, [West Campus] looked very different than it does today,” he said. “It is going through a change that will likely result in it being a jewel for the University.”

External hires for directors of the two remaining West Campus institutes — Microbial Diversity and Energy Sciences — could be announced as early as September, Strobel said.

In addition to receiving his West Campus leadership position, Levchenko said he is “very honored” to enter Yale as a Malone Professor of Biomedical Engineering. In 2011, John Malone ’63 endowed 10 engineering professorships with a $50 million gift — the largest ever in University history at the time. The first Malone professor, biomedical engineer Jay Humphrey, was named in February.

Deputy Provost for Science and Technology Steve Girvin said the Malone professor searches are proceeding at a typical rate. Thanks to a bullish market since the gift, the Malone endowment has grown by 10 to 15 percent, which helps to cover some of the costs of setting up labs for the Malone professors, he said.

“The Malone gift was a remarkable, very substantial gift that obviously is going to play an extremely important role in allowing the school of engineering to make some important senior hires,” Girvin said.

Strobel said he hopes all six of the West Campus institutes are filled with faculty  within five years.

Correction: Aug. 28

Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article mistakenly stated that Strobel hopes all six of the West Campus institutes gain permanent directorships within five years, when in fact he said he hopes all six are filled with faculty within five years.  

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