Scripps President Richard Lerner To Step Down, Be Replaced by Berkeley Chemist, Sources Say

Xconomy San Diego — 

Richard Lerner, the president of one of San Diego’s leading research institutions for the past two decades, will soon step down from the top job at The Scripps Research Institute—and he is likely to be replaced by a top chemist and molecular biologist from UC Berkeley, Xconomy has learned.

No formal announcement has been made, and a successor won’t be officially named until a vote is held by the Scripps board of trustees, says Scripps spokeswoman Mika Ono. But Michael Marletta, a chemist and molecular biologist at UC Berkeley has emerged as the likely successor, Xconomy has learned from multiple sources inside Scripps. Ono, the institute’s spokeswoman, confirmed that Marletta is a candidate on a “very short list,” but she said the deal isn’t yet “signed, sealed, and delivered.” News of a search for Lerner’s successor broke last July when the institute advertised for the job in Cell, and the story was picked up by GenomeWeb.

“The board has to vote,” Ono says. “It’s in the works, but it’s not done yet.”

The change in leadership represents a big move for Scripps, where Lerner has been the only president since the institution reorganized as a nonprofit in 1991. Lerner, 72, who first arrived at Scripps’ predecessor institution in 1965, is best known for his work in the discovery of catalyzing antibodies along with chemist Peter Schultz. Lerner is expected to remain on the faculty, according to last summer’s GenomeWeb report.

Marletta, the Aldo DeBenedictis Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at UC Berkeley, said in an e-mail that he can’t comment at this time. Lerner didn’t respond right away to a couple of e-mailed questions this afternoon, although when my colleague Bruce Bigelow asked him by e-mail over the weekend if he has retired, Lerner said, “not true.”

Michael Marletta

Lerner oversaw a period of significant growth at Scripps, as it has emerged as as one of the world’s largest independent nonprofit centers for biomedical research, and an anchor of the San Diego biotech community. The institute has 35 acres of land and 1 million square feet of office space near the Pacific Ocean, UC San Diego, and a number of the region’s top biotech companies. As of last month, the institute had more than 3,060 employees between its campuses in San Diego and Jupiter, FL, and more than 540 faculty and scientific and professional staff. The institute has a reputation for excellence, with three Nobel laureates and numerous members of the National Academy of Sciences on staff.

If I hear any further comments from Lerner or other sources close to the situation, I’ll be sure to update the story.