Biotech Visionaries

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is the brainchild of founders James R. Hudson, Jr. and Lonnie S. McMillian.

Each is a serial entrepreneur whose career path led him to understand the promise of genomics and who possessed the drive to translate this promise into measurable, real world results.

Equal parts scientist and businessman, Jim Hudson’s investments have shaped the advancement of biotechnology around the world—but especially in the state of Alabama. Hudson founded and served as chief executive of Research Genetics, Inc., which in the 1990s became the world’s leader in genetic linkage products and an integral partner in the Human Genome Project, the international effort coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health to identify the sequence of the DNA found inside human cells. Following Research Genetics’ 1999 merger with Invitrogen Corp. (now Life Technologies, Inc.), Hudson remained committed to local entrepreneurs, serving as a mentor and advisor to companies in industries ranging from genetics research to Internet services.

Lonnie McMillian—the “Alpha” in HudsonAlpha—is an engineer by training. Early in his career McMillian cofounded a company that built mini computers and he helped it grow into a successful venture that employed hundreds of people. The company’s 1981 sale kicked off a series of successful business ventures that culminated in 1986 with McMillian joining the team that founded ADTRAN, today a leading global provider of networking and communications equipment. By the 1990s he had turned his attention to biotechnology and, following his 2001 retirement from ADTRAN, he immersed himself in the life sciences. Along the way he sought out Jim Hudson, then at Research Genetics, and the idea of a nonprofit institute for biotechnology began to percolate. Like Hudson, McMillian had mentored countless aspiring entrepreneurs and, as a philanthropist, his nonprofit Alpha Foundation had honored a long-standing commitment to Huntsville’s economic development and growth.

Drawing on their experience and envisioning a course for the future, Hudson and McMillian recognized that four ingredients are essential for improving human health and well-being: education, research-driven discovery, clinical care, and entrepreneurship. HudsonAlpha unites these four endeavors into a single enterprise. Since the Institute’s 2008 opening, HudsonAlpha has generated major discoveries that impact disease diagnosis and treatment, created intellectual property, created a clinical genomic medicine program, fostered biotechnology companies, and expanded the number of biosciences-literate people, many of whom will be the future workforce.

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