The Story of HudsonAlpha
The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology has a four-fold mission of conducting genomics-based research to improve human health and well being; implementing genomic medicine, sparking entrepreneurship and economic development; and providing educational outreach to nurture the next generation of biotech researchers and entrepreneurs, as well as to create a biotech literate public.
HudsonAlpha is the brainchild of founders James R. Hudson, Jr. and the late Lonnie S. McMillian, who passed away in 2018. Both men enjoyed career paths that led them to understand the promise of genomics and both possessed the drive to translate that promise into measurable, real world results. The announcement of the creation of the nonprofit Institute came in 2005, and the doors opened in 2008. Lonnie McMillian’s incredible generosity, along with the State of Alabama, provided the funding needed to make the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology a reality.
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 health program, fostered biotechnology companies, and expanded the number of biosciences-literate people, many of whom will be the future workforce.
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. This international effort, coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health, identified the sequence of the DNA found inside human cells. Following Research Genetics’ 1999 merger with Invitrogen Corp. (now ThermoFisher Scientific, 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 co-founded 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 and Mark Smith co-founding 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 to move basic discoveries into real-world applications for biotechnology began to take shape. Like Hudson, McMillian has mentored countless aspiring entrepreneurs and, as a philanthropist, his nonprofit Alpha Foundation has honored a long-standing commitment to Huntsville’s economic development and growth.