The CEO of one of the state’s largest nonprofit research laboratories will end his 10-year tenure leading the lab in February 2022, but remain as a professor and research lab head, the lab said this week.
Edison Liu, 69, guided The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor through huge growth, including an in-progress $240 million mouse reproduction facility in a former Lowe’s in Ellsworth. He said the lab has nearly tripled its endowment to $380 million over the past nine years, doubled revenues to more than $500 million and almost doubled staff to 2,400 across its five locations. Liu said 10 years is a good time to make a transition.
“I firmly believe that there’s a natural transition for leadership that is really important for the institution,” he said. “It’s really a lot about the necessary refresh when the fundamental basis of you or the organization is founded on novelty, innovation and fresh thinking.”
The educational and research institution has three locations in Maine and one each in Connecticut, California and China. During Liu’s leadership, The Jackson Lab has almost doubled its space to more than 1.5 million square feet in all facilities combined. Jackson Lab is searching for his successor.
One of his most unexpected challenges came when the coronavirus pandemic hit and the lab saw revenues nosedive, forcing it to quickly pivot. It shifted to processing COVID-19 tests, handling 1.4 million tests in Connecticut and Maine, including for the University of Maine system and Maine Maritime Academy. It also bred a mouse to help discover a vaccine for the coronavirus.
Under Liu, research grants grew from $63 million in 2012 to $106 million in 2021. He said one of the lab’s biggest accomplishments was opening a genomic medicine lab in Connecticut in 2014. He also led the effort to bring advanced cancer diagnostics and treatment to community hospitals in Maine through the Maine Cancer Genomics Initiative, which was established in 2016 and now has 1,600 patients enrolled in Maine.
Liu, who previously was the executive director of the Genome Institute of Singapore, will head a lab at The Jackson Laboratory named after him that studies the functional genomics of cancer, with a focus on an aggressive form of breast cancer, and serve as the director of The Jackson Laboratory’s National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center.
The lab said it was the 15th largest employer in Maine in 2020 with 1,700 employees and the largest in Hancock County. The economic impact of the lab and its activities in Maine was $733 million and it invested about $75 million in capital projects.
Liu also is an accomplished classical and jazz pianist who before the pandemic could be heard playing in the laboratory’s cafeteria as well as performing in public, including at the University of Southern Maine.
He said the piano is a good way to refresh himself after a busy workday, and that it is like meditation. He has played since age 7, and said the discipline of preparing to perform has helped him communicate publicly as a scientist and as head of the lab.
“You have to present yourself in a certain way in order to connect with the audience,” he said.