Reflections on a decade of growth

By Kristina Meek
January 29, 2013
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It’s a good idea for the people within an organization to stop and look around once in a while. And there is perhaps no better time for reflection than during a time of transition.

As John C. Reed, M.D., Ph.D., put it, “All organizations benefit from fresh leadership approximately every decade, and that time is now for Sanford-Burnham.” Reed announced on January 14 that he would be stepping down after 11 years as CEO to accept a position with pharmaceutical company Roche.

This turn of events led to an opportunity to reflect on our past, present and future, when Sanford-Burnham’s leaders presented “Reflections on a Decade of Growth.” Our scientists and staff heard from Reed, as well as distinguished professor and past president (1989-2002) Erkki Ruoslahti, M.D., Ph.D., and president and interim CEO Kristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D.

Their inspiring presentation including four key observations:

1.  Sanford-Burnham has grown significantly since Reed took the helm in 2002.

As Reed recounted, the Institute has expanded from a single location to a bi-coastal organization, and from two research centers to five. We’ve added two state-of-the-art technology centers, and our annual operating budget has increased threefold. The faculty have grown from 52 to 89, and total headcount from around 500 to nearly 1,200.

As a result of this growth, we consistently rank among the top five organizations worldwide for our scientific impact in the fields of biology and biochemistry (defined by citations per publication) and third in the nation in NIH funding among all laboratory-based research institutes.

Interim CEO Kristiina Vuori and former CEO John Reed

2.  Sanford-Burnham adeptly changes with the times.

Reed cited several instances of the Institute’s ability to seize opportunity and take advantage of change. For example, shortly after September 11, 2001, there was increased concern about infectious agents and their potential use as bioweapons. This was the ideal time to launch the Institute’s Infectious and Inflammatory Disease Center, and set our experts to work on meeting this need.

More generally, Sanford-Burnham has responded to the health needs of the world by moving along the spectrum from pure basic research toward applied, or translational, research. We’re increasingly focused on finding treatments for disease.

3.  The organization’s culture makes it unique.

In her warm and sometimes humorous remarks about Reed’s impact, Vuori called him “a driver for the culture of the organization.” That culture, as all three speakers pointed out, is one of innovation and collaboration. The Institute forgoes “silos” to allow researchers to benefit from working together.

4. The future is bright

Reed has repeatedly expressed his desire to collaborate with Sanford-Burnham researchers once he transitions to his new role at Roche, helping move discoveries from the lab toward patient benefit. Ruoslahti declared, “I’d like to take John up on his offer.”

The speakers agreed that, while the Institute has steadily grown in size, it’s time to shift the focus to fine-tuning areas of strength, namely research with translational applications and drug discovery.

As Ruoslahti concluded, “I’m very optimistic about the future of this organization.”

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Kristina Meek

Kristina was an SBP Communications staff member.

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