SARANAC LAKE - When 2011 began, the question of whether Trudeau Institute would leave the community where it was founded was still unanswered.
Two months earlier, in November 2010, the Enterprise had reported that the 126-year-old biomedical research center had hired a consulting firm to study three options for future growth: expansion of the Institute's current facilities, building a new clinical research site out of state or leaving Saranac Lake for a new location.
The possibility of Trudeau relocating sparked concern among Saranac Lake residents and elected officials at the local, state and federal level. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer pressed Trudeau to stay put. Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the chairman of the Institute's Board of Trustees, Benjamin Brewster. Village Mayor Clyde Rabideau urged village residents to "gird for battle." The prospect of relocation also caused anxiety among Trudeau's roughly 130 employees at the time.
Trudeau Institute Executive Director David Woodland poses during an interview with the Enterprise in July. Days later, the institute announced that he would leave for a job in Colorado.
(Enterprise file photo — Chris Knight)
In February, however, their concerns were allayed when Trudeau's board voted to take the option of relocation off the table. The decision came after a presentation by the consultants and several hours of discussion by the board at a meeting in New York City.
"The Trudeau Institute is committed to staying in Saranac Lake and advancing biomedical research in the region," then-Trudeau president and director David Woodland said in a statement.
But that wasn't the end of the anxiety that seemed to hang over the Institute like a cloud this year.
Two weeks later, the Enterprise obtained an internal Trudeau memo that said the Institute would cut support staff and scientists to make up for a 25 percent drop in revenue for its research programs. Specifically, federal stimulus funds the Institute received in 2009 to continue several research programs ran out. While Trudeau went to "considerable efforts" to get funding to replace that, it wasn't enough to compensate for the loss of stimulus money, Woodland said at the time.
Trudeau officials initially wouldn't say how many positions had been cut but later revealed that roughly a dozen employees were laid off.
Woodland sat down with the Enterprise for an interview in July to talk about the need to diversify Trudeau's revenue streams so it's not as reliant on grants from the National Institutes of Health, which funds the bulk of its research. He said the Institute was looking into the possibility of doing for-profit contract research for drug companies.
Just days later, however, the Institute announced that Woodland would leave Trudeau in the fall for a job with a biomedical institute in Colorado that organizes conferences for scientists. And he wasn't alone. The Enterprise also learned that Trudeau faculty members Ed and Erika Pearce were moving their laboratory, along with its team of scientists, to Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. Woodland's wife, faculty member Marcia Blackman, was also leaving to join her husband in Colorado, although Trudeau officials said she's retained a part-time faculty position at the Institute.
"This level of turnover is greater than expected and is not optimal," Brewster said in an email.
It's not just the loss of faculty members that was troubling for the Institute. It's also a financial hit because when scientists leave one research institute for another, they typically take their federal grant funds with them. In mid-July, there were roughly $9 million in active NIH grants for the Institute listed in a federal database that tracks the agency's funding. As of mid-December, the Institute had just over $7 million in active NIH grants.
These departures come on the heels of the loss of four other full-time faculty in the past three years: Susan Swain, Richard Dutton, who left in 2009, and Troy Randall and Frances Lund. Together they had more than $4 million in NIH grants in their last full year at Trudeau.
In November of this year, Brewster told the Enterprise that a consulting firm that specializes in recruiting senior executives had been hired to help find the Institute's next director. He also said recruitment of new faculty is ongoing.
The year came to a close with some positive news for Trudeau - the announcement that it would receive $1.2 million in state economic development funds to modernize its laboratory facilities and recruit additional scientists. The state University at Albany was also awarded $1 million in economic development funds for a biotech corridor initiative that involves Trudeau.
Despite the challenges the Institute faced this year, its faculty and scientists continue to make important contributions to their fields. Andrea Cooper's lab made an important discovery in understanding the way the body fights tuberculosis. Research conducted in Stephen Smiley's laboratory could lead to new treatments for people sickened by listeria and other sepsis-causing bacteria. Trudeau officials announced in December that new research from Elizabeth Leadbetter's lab could lead to a new class of vaccines to protect the body against infection.