The first roots of Genopole grew in the 1990s at AFM-Téléthon, the French Muscular Dystrophy Association. There, the association’s then president Bernard Barataud, himself the father of a child with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, teamed with the geneticists Daniel Cohen and Jean Weissenbach of the Genethon laboratory to conceive a biopark where basic and applied research coalesce for innovation. The road they set out upon was a bumpy one: at the time, research and business where two separate worlds. The support of Thierry Mandon, then Essonne Departmental Vice-president and Genopole’s founding president from 1998 to 2014, weighed greatly in convincing the French State of the interest of such a project, which received its green light in January 1998. Pierre Tambourin, then director of the CNRS’s life sciences department, was given the mission of piloting the creation of the biocluster. Genopole was inaugurated on 23 October 1998 in the presence of Minister of National Education, Research and Technology Claude Allègre and Minister of the Economy, Finances and Industry Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Pierre Tambourin’s mission
While CEO of Genopole from 1998 to 2017, Pierre Tambourin’s mission was to create a research campus, based on the Anglo-American models, linked to a biotechnology park focusing on the scientific priorities of genomics, bioinformatics, and a multi-disciplinary approach integrating mathematics, physical chemistry, robotics, post-genomics and gene therapy, while also ensuring that discoveries made on the campus would be transferred to industry. (J-F Prud’homme; excerpt from The Ingenuity of Genes; Ed. Cherche-Midi).
Why was Évry chosen for Genopole?
In the 1990s, Évry was already known as a leading territory for genetics research in France and in the world. The community was already home to:
- The AFM, which held its first telethon in 1987;
- Its laboratory Genethon, the first large-scale biology laboratory created through telethon funding in 1990. Genethon researchers were the first to edit physical and genetic maps of the human genome in 1992–93;
- The National Sequencing Center, created in early 1997 and headed by Jean Weissenbach;
- The National Genotyping Center, created in 1997 and headed by Mark Lathrop.
Évry was also home to two biotech businesses: Genset and Biofords Consultants. It was thus in this fertile soil of renowned entities forming already a budding biopark that Genopole was planted and began growing.