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Challenge, opportunity at Trudeau

May 26, 2012
By Benjamin Brewster - on behalf of the entire Board of Trustees , Trudeau Institute

The Trudeau Institute's Board of Trustees appreciates the interest that the community and the media have in our challenges and opportunities, today and in the future. We are writing to clarify some points raised in the recent two-part report on the institute by Chris Knight and Brian Mann.

In February of 2010, David Woodland, Ph.D., then president of the institute, and Terry Gach, then vice president for institutional advancement, first briefed Mr. Henry Fenn, then chairman of the board, and Mr. Ben Brewster, then vice chairman of the board, regarding an approach by a Florida developer to determine the Institute's level of interest in establishing a presence in Florida. David Woodland, along with several members of our Scientific Advisory Board, had expressed serious concerns about Trudeau's ability to maintain itself in its current location and urged the board to evaluate other options. A number of research organizations, including the Jackson Laboratory in Maine and the San Diego-based Scripps Research Institute, had either opened sites in Florida or were considering doing so in the future.

To fulfill its fiduciary responsibilities to the institute, a delegation of trustees and management visited Florida in the spring of 2010 to explore the opportunity. After the delegation reported its findings to the full board at its annual meeting in August of that year, the board approved a study to address the challenges to Trudeau related to dwindling National Institutes of Health funding. In the fall of 2010, the Executive Committee of the Board hired a consulting firm to assist in weighing the institute's various options. The following January the board held a meeting in New York City, where the recommendations of the consulting firm were presented and discussed. At the conclusion of that meeting, the board overwhelmingly confirmed that the Trudeau Institute's mission was as a scientific research institute, with its primary location to remain in Saranac Lake.

While the consulting firm's report provided valuable information based on data available to them from public sources, the board noted that the report did not place the appropriate emphasis on the institute's unique mission or fully explore opportunities for Trudeau in its current location. The board also noted that, while NIH funding was likely to decline in the near term, the institute had tremendous assets that could be leveraged to carry it forward. It had (and continues to have) a strong balance sheet, an international reputation for scientific achievement and a consistent rating as one of the best research institutes in the country for scientists to work. Furthermore, the institute is backed by an idyllic campus, a state-of-the-art experimental animal facility and a strong tradition in the Adirondacks, all of which allow our scientists to focus on their research. Following that January 2011 meeting, the board directed Dr. Woodland to cease any further exploration of relocation and to formulate a strategic plan to maintain and grow the institute in its current location. Several months later, he announced he would be leaving Trudeau.

The recruitment of the Trudeau Institute by the state of Florida (and other locations) was for the purpose of bringing a world-renowned basic science research center into proximity with other institutes that could work cooperatively both to conduct research and provide an economic basis for that state's investment. For Trudeau to survive and grow in Saranac Lake, the board agreed that we needed to re-engineer the institute to be less dependent upon NIH grants and to enhance our collaborations in order to extend our results into clinical settings and to translate our knowledge of the basic science into vaccine development and other "translational" directions. In addition, we felt we needed to explore partnerships with other local academic institutions, biotech firms and the state of New York to leverage Trudeau's important role as an economic engine for the North Country.

To this end, the board has taken a number of aggressive steps. We have decided to replace Dr. Woodland's position as director of the institute with a chief executive officer who can place more emphasis on strategic leadership, business development and fund raising. We engaged a nationally known search firm to facilitate that process. We are now in the final stages of recruitment and hope to have a new CEO in place in the next several months. We believe that successfully recruiting a CEO is a critical first step.

In addition, a strategic vision has been developed that attempts to leverage the global relevance of our work and the Trudeau Institute's excellent reputation to attract more funding sources locally, nationally and internationally. We believe that Trudeau represents a significant asset to both the state and the local region, and we have entered into a dialogue with our representatives in Albany to determine how we might work together to achieve our objectives. We are also exploring how to establish mutually beneficial relationships with nearby academic institutions, both to extend our science but also to forge economic partnerships that would strengthen and expand the economic base in the Adirondacks into a thriving biotech corridor. We have recently developed a contract research arm and are actively pursuing research opportunities in that area. Finally, we are attempting to reach out to the Adirondack community both for philanthropic support and advice while actively seeking innovative funding sources from global philanthropists.

We acknowledge that this is a challenging time for the Trudeau Institute, as it is for almost all research institutes around the country, but we believe that with great challenges come great opportunities, and that with the proper partnerships and support from the community and the state, the Trudeau Institute can continue its long history in the pursuit of scientific excellence in Saranac Lake. We believe the words of Dr. E.L. Trudeau, written nearly a century ago in his autobiography, remain true today:

"The aims of the institution should now be not so much growth in size as perfection in methods and helpful activities, and spread of advanced knowledge. Science and philanthropy must in the future as in the past be the watchwords of (our) work, and along these lines it should continue to progress steadily. The degree of perfection and usefulness it attains will depend upon the spirit of its workers and the financial support of its friends and the public."


Benjamin Brewster is chairman of the Board of Trustees of Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake. He lives in Charlottesville, Va.



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