Four months after its opening, the Mount Sinai Genetic Testing Lab— located in Branford, Connecticut and run by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai — is on track to meet its growth targets for the year.
“We want to find new ways to identify mechanisms of disease and new ways to improve patient outcomes,” said Todd Arnold, managing director of the Mount Sinai Genetic Testing Lab.
Created to satisfy the growing demand for large volumes of inexpensively sequenced genome data, the 16,500-square-foot facility now has a staff of 19 researchers and aims to employ 50 by the end of 2015.
Nucleic acid sequencing has huge potential to improve treatment for diseases ranging from cancer to diabetes, and the facility’s core mission is to generate this sequencing data, he added.
Andrew Kasarskis, co-director of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, said Mount Sinai considered numerous options in both the New York-New Jersey area and in Connecticut when deciding where to locate the sequencing facility. Ultimately, Mount Sinai decided upon Branford because of its highly trained labor force and the high quality lab space that was available, he added.
“You have pretty good access to Yale and other universities in the area, and there’s the opportunity for recruitment and for collaboration,” Arnold said.
The decision also made economic sense, he added. Basing the facility in Branford was considerably cheaper than basing it in Manhattan — where the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is located — but does not place it too far from the Manhattan campus.
The timing was also fortuitous, as 454 Life Sciences, a subsidiary of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, had just closed. Not only was the Icahn Institute able to take over a facility that already had some of the required infrastructure, but it was also able to recruit researchers who had previously worked there. This included Arnold himself, who was vice president of research and development at 454.
The Icahn Institute’s decision to invest in the Branford facility is testament to the strong biotech community present in New Haven and the surrounding region, said Ginny Kozlowski, executive director of the New Haven Economic Development Corporation and REX Development. While New Haven itself did not have a suitably sized space to accommodate Icahn’s facility, Kozlowski said that EDC and REX worked closely with the town of Branford and the Institute to facilitate a deal.
“If someone can’t be in New Haven, we say it’s better to look around in the region,” she explained.
Arnold said that while the Branford facility is still ramping up its operations, their goal is to process tens of thousands of genomic samples by the end of 2015. The facility is in the process of getting the required certification that would allow it to process patient samples for diagnostic use, but is already handling research samples.
The facility is only serving researchers from within the Mount Sinai community at this point, but envisions working with external collaborators and clients in the near future, Arnold added.
“We have a great team with diverse backgrounds working hard to decide how everything should work, and I’m excited to be part of this effort to realize the potential of next-generation sequencing,” said Krista Perrella, a laboratory coordinator at the new facility.
The Icahn Institute expects to create at least 142 full-time jobs within the next five years, in accordance with provisions of a loan by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.