The Scripps Research Institute

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The Scripps Research Institute

10550 North Torrey Pines Road
La Jolla, California 92037
Telephone: (858) 784-1000
Fax: (858) 784-8118
Web site:

Not-for-Profit Company
1924 as Scripps Metabolic Clinic
Employees: 2,600 (est.)
Operating Revenues: $265.22 million (2004)
NAIC: 541710 Research and Development in the Physical, Engineering, and Life Sciences

The Scripps Research Institute is one of the largest nonprofit research organizations in the United States. Based in La Jolla, California, the Institute is composed of eight departments: cell biology, chemistry, immunology, experimental medicine, infectology, molecular biology, neurobiology, and neuropharmacology. The Scripps staff includes 270 professors, with three Nobel Prize winners among its ranks, 800 postdoctoral fellows, 1,500 laboratory technicians, and 126 Ph.D. students. Most of the Institute's funding comes from grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and alliances with pharmaceutical companies. In the 2000s Scripps began building a second research center in southern Florida, geared toward biomedical research, advanced technologies, and drug discovery.

Founder: 19th-Century Champion of Women's Rights

The Scripps Research Institute bears the name of its founder, Ellen Browning Scripps, a member of the family that also founded the Scripps chain of 21 daily newspapers, today part of the media holdings of The E.W. Scripps Company. Her father, a native of Great Britain and acclaimed bookbinder, relocated the family to Rushville, Illinois, when she was just seven years of age. An avid reader, she became one of the first women in the United States to attend college, graduating from Knox College in Illinois in 1858. She taught school for several years and then in 1873, following the death of her father, she joined her brother, James E. Scripps, in launching the Detroit Evening News, investing all of her savings in the venture. Given that the country had just tumbled into one of its deepest economic depressions, it was a bold decision, but one that paid off handsomely. Not content to serve just as a proofreader, she began writing a daily front page column called "Matters and Things," which became a highly popular vehicle for her opinions on topics such as prohibition and women's suffrage. Her column, which she authored for the next 60 years, became syndicated by some 1,000 newspapers. In the meantime, she also proved to be an adept businessperson. In 1878 she invested in an effort of her brother, Edward W. Scripps, to launch a Cleveland daily newspaper, the Penny Press, aimed at urban workers. It was the start of a chain of newspapers, many of which Ellen Scripps would invest in, and became the foundation of today's E.W. Scripps empire. Never married, she moved to San Diego, California, with Edward and his family in 1891, and then moved to La Jolla in 1896. She made even more money speculating in La Jolla real estate, and then in 1900 inherited a fortune from her brother, George H. Scripps. She treated the inheritance as a bequest and over the last third of her life devoted much of her time to philanthropic endeavors in southern California.

In 1924 Ellen Scripps broke her hip and was confined to a La Jolla sanitarium that was far from ideal. She decided to replace it with a first class hospital, and in that year she and her brother funded the 44-bed Scripps Memorial Hospital along with the Scripps Metabolic Clinic. The early focus was on caring for patients with diabetes, a disease that afflicted the Scripps family, and on researching treatment for diabetes. Ellen Scripps passed away in 1932, but the institutions she helped found lived on, including the Metabolic Clinic.

Modern Era Dating to the 1950s

The Clinic reached a turning point in 1955, a year that marked the birth of the Institute known today. It was renamed the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation (SCRF) and most of its reserves were now committed to the construction of a new first-class research facility and the recruitment of leading biomedical scien-tists. A major coup for the Institute occurred in 1961 when renowned immunologist Frank Dixon and four of his colleagues left the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine to establish the Department of Experimental Pathology at SCRF. The group of scientists focused its research on autoimmune diseases, with the funding mostly coming from NIH grants. SCRF began to gain in prominence, as reflected by a member of the faculty, Gerald M. Edelman, winning a 1972 Nobel Prize for his discoveries related to the chemical structure of antibodies. SCRF also expanded its scope during this period. In 1974 The General Clinical Research Center was established to test discoveries made in the Scripps laboratories in a clinical setting. By this time a number of research programs had developed, and in 1977 they were formally brought together under SCRF, which was reorganized as the Research Institute of Scripps Clinic.

Another turning point for the Institute occurred in the early 1980s, when immunology was becoming increasingly dependent on new molecular biology technologies. According to Yvonne Baskin, writing for Science in 1991, Dixon "considered it critical to propel the institute into molecular biology. But by then NIH funding was plateauing, and the institute's labs were full. 'We had no hard money, no endowment, and the medical end of this operation has always been a financial drag,' Dixon [said]." The solution on which the Institute settled was a commercial partnership with a pharmaceutical company. In 1982 Scripps signed a long-term licensing agreement with Johnson & Johnson. In exchange for funding, which would amount to about $10 million a year, Scripps gave Johnson & Johnson first rights to the fruits of its research through 1996. The pharmaceutical company also funded the construction of a new molecular biology building, and in 1983 Scripps founded its Molecular Biology Department. In 1985 Scripps forged another commercial alliance, this time with PPG Industries, and doubled the size of the building. PPG gained first rights in areas not covered by the Johnson & Johnson agreement, such as polymer chemistry and plant molecular biology. The company also had second rights on Scripps's discoveries passed up by Johnson & Johnson. NIH funds did not dry up, however. "In 1986," according to Baskin, "when the total of its grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) passed the $39 million mark, the Scripps Research Institute began billing itself as the nation's largest 'independent, nonprofit biomedical research center.' The unspoken rival Scripps had surpassed was the Mayo Clinic."

Scripps grew on other fronts as well as the 1980s came to a close. Dixon stepped down as director in 1987, replaced by protégé Richard Lerner. Two years later Lerner recruited K.C. Nicolaou from the University of Pennsylvania to establish a new chemistry department. In keeping with a Scripps tradition of working across disciplines, Nicolaou soon launched a program in biorganic synthesis that quickly became a leader in the field. Lerner also established Scripps's first graduate program in 1989 in Macromolecular and Cellular Structure and Chemistry. A program in chemistry, with an emphasis on bioorganic synthesis, would follow two years later.

Reorganization in the 1990s

More organizational changes occurred in 1991. SCRF and Scripps Memorial Hospitals were reaffiliated, both placed under a parent organization, Scripps Institutions of Medicine and Science. SCRF now became a separate corporation, taking on the name The Scripps Research Institute.

Scripps established its Department of Neurobiology in 1992. At the close of that year, four full years before the agreement with Johnson & Johnson was set to expire, the Institute arranged a new drug development alliance with Swiss pharmaceutical Sandoz AG, a ten-year deal worth $300 million set to begin in January 1997. It was a good fit for the parties, given that both concentrated on immunology, central nervous system disorders, and cardiovascular diseases. Although Johnson & Johnson would no longer provide general research funding, it continued to work with Scripps on development projects for specific drugs. The agreement with Sandoz, however, sparked some unexpected controversy, as some critics questioned the propriety of Sandoz gaining the rights to research partially funded by the federal government. A January 1993 editorial in the San Diego Union Tribune questioning the arrangement caught the attention of a U.S. Congressman, Democrat Rob Wyden of Oregon, who was investigating the price of new drugs and began examining arrangements between government-funded research institutions and drugmakers. He then wrote a letter to the NIH asking the agency to look into the matter. Subsequent pressure from Congress and the NIH, which threatened to restrict future grants to the Institute, forced Scripps and Sandoz to rework their agreement in June 1993. In the end, the fundamentals of the deal remained $300 million over ten years, but Sandoz would not receive first rights to all Scripps's research, just the research it directly funded.

In the second half of the 1990s, Scripps continued to expand its interests. It established the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology in 1996, the result of a $100 million commitment from Aline and Sam Skaggs through their charitable entities. The mission of the new unit was to conduct research where chemistry and biology converged in order to develop cures for diseases. In 1999 contributions from the Harold L. Dorris Foundation led to the creation of The Harold L. Dorris Neurological Research Center to conduct research into neurological disorders, such as epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease.

Company Perspectives:

The Scripps Research Institute, one of the country's largest, private, non-profit research organizations, has always stood at the forefront of basic biomedical science, a vital segment of medical research that seeks to comprehend the most fundamental processes of life.

The early 2000s saw more centers opening within the Scripps Research Institute. In 2001 the Institute for Childhood and Neglected Diseases was established to focus on diseases such as epilepsy, mental retardation, malaria, cystic fibrosis, chronic pain, and depression. The following year the Helen L. Dorris Institute for the Study of Neurological and Psychiatric Disorders of Children and Adolescents was founded. The mission of this center was to investigate the pathological basis of mental disorders in order to develop therapies. In 2003 Scripps established the Pearson Center for Research on Alcoholism and Addiction, funded by an anonymous gift. The goal of this center was to develop new clinical treatments to help people free themselves from alcohol and drug addictions. During this period of time Scripps also added two more Nobel Prizes. K. Barry Sharpless won the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on chirally catalyzed oxidation reactions. A year later his colleague, Kurt Wuthrich, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of nuclear resonance spectroscopy, used to determine the three-dimensional structure of biological macromolecules in solution.

In June 2003 Scripps's facilities were visited by Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who began talks with the Institute's officials in an effort to convince them to launch a second research facility in Florida's Palm Beach County. The two sides came to an agreement, which was signed in January 2004, calling for the creation of Scripps Florida, a division of The Scripps Research Institute. In the hope of adding more than 40,000 jobs that would develop around the new research facility and transform South Florida into a center for the life sciences, Scripps received a one-time $310 million appropriation of federal economic development funds from Florida. In addition, Palm Beach County provided 100 acres of undeveloped land and $137 million for the construction of a temporary and permanent facility. Palm Beach County was chosen as the site for Scripps Florida because of its reputation as the state's philanthropic center, an important consideration because the new research institute would depend on private donations. Nevertheless, the state and local governments expected to be paid back handsomely on their investment. They estimated that over the course of the next 15 years Scripps Florida would bring in about $1.6 billion in income to the area and increase Florida's gross domestic product by $3.2 billion. Moreover, beginning after the seventh year, Scripps promised to repay up to $155 million to Florida's Biomedical Research Trust Fund.

Scripps Florida opened in a small temporary facility on the campus of Boca Raton's Florida Atlantic University in the spring of 2004. It was quick to launch a doctoral program at the school. A year later the unit moved into a new 40,000-square-foot laboratory building located on the university's Jupiter, Florida, campus. In that year, ground was broken on the main facility, a 350,000-square-foot state-of-the-art campus on the 100 acres provided by Palm Beach County, slated to open in 2007.

While a great deal of attention was received by Scripps Florida, the parent Institute continued to thrive in southern California, where it had already proven to be an important catalyst in the $6.3 million biotech industry that had developed in the La Jolla area. In 2002 it forged another important commercial alliance, this time with Xerox Corporation's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). The partnership was dubbed the Scripps-PARC Institute for Advanced Biomedical Studies and began work on the development of new cancer detecting tools. Two years later, PARC and Scripps established a separate institute to carry on the work.

Principal Operating Units

The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology; Institute for Childhood and Neglected Diseases; The Helen L. Dorris Institute for the Study of Neurological and Psychiatric Disorders of Children and Adolescents; The Harold L. Dorris Neurological Research Center; The General Clinical Research Center; The Center for Integrative Molecular Biosciences; The Pearson Center for Research on Alcoholism and Addiction.

Key Dates:

The Scripps Metabolic Clinic opens.
The clinic changes its name to Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation.
Research programs are brought under the Research Institute of Scripps Clinic.
An alliance is forged with Johnson & Johnson.
The Scripps Research Institute name is adopted.
Johnson & Johnson is replaced by Sandoz AG.
Scripps Florida opens.

Further Reading

Anderson, Christopher, "Scripps Backs Down on Controversial Sandoz Deal," Science, June 25, 1992, p. 1872.

, "Scripps-Sandoz Deal Comes Under Fire," Science, February 12, 1992, p. 889.

Baskin, Yvonne, "Manifest Destiny at the Scripps Research Institute," Science, July 12, 1991, p. 140.

Cole, Jonathan E., et al., "Scripps Is Catalyst for Florida's Life Sciences Industry," Venture Capital Journal, March 1, 2005, p. 1.

Hilts, Philip J., "Research Group's Tie to Drugmaker Is Questioned," New York Times, June 18, 1993.

Lauer, Nancy Cook, "Florida Lawmakers Get Acquainted with Scripps Research Institute," Tallahassee Democrat, October 22, 2003.

Seemuth, Mike, "Science Friction: The Launch of Scripps Florida," South Florida CEO, June 2005, p. 106.