Former Joslin CEO shocked at ouster
Brooks says board asked him to resign; Vows to continue work on treatments
The former chief executive of Joslin Diabetes Center said Joslin’s board forced him out of his job this week and gave no reason for the abrupt decision to change leadership.
“I was as shocked as anyone that the board made the decision to request my resignation,” said John L. Brooks III, a longtime life sciences and health care executive, who led Joslin from 2011. “I was asked to resign, which I did. I wish I had the reason.”
Brooks, 64, said the board made the request Tuesday morning. The same day, Joslin, a Harvard-affiliated research and treatment center in the Longwood Medical Area of Boston, released a statement announcing the change.
Joslin promoted chief financial officer Eliot M. Lurier to interim chief executive and said it would announce a permanent chief soon.
Joslin did not respond to questions about why Brooks was replaced.
In a statement, board chairman Ralph James said: “We thank John Brooks for his good work and his efforts on behalf of Joslin over the last four years. We look forward to welcoming a new chief executive who will lead Joslin as it continues to be an independent institution focused on cutting-edge research and innovative care with the ultimate goal of a world free of diabetes and its complications.”
Brooks declined to elaborate on his relationship with the board or his work at Joslin. He said he remains committed to finding better treatments for diabetes and plans to keep working toward that end.
A venture capitalist and entrepreneur, he has spent 23 years in the field, beginning when his now adult son was diagnosed with diabetes at age 3.
“Last night my son called me and said, ‘Dad, whatever you do, stay in diabetes,’ ” Brooks said.
Brooks, who joined Joslin’s board a decade ago, became chief executive in 2011 after working in the life sciences industry, including cofounding Insulet Corp., a Billerica company that makes an insulin delivery system for people with diabetes. He also helped launch Prism VentureWorks, a Needham venture capital firm.
Joslin, with 525 employees, boasts the world’s largest team of physicians, 70 of them, treating diabetes. The center said it hosts 21,000 patient visits per year and conducts more than 150 trials and studies per year focused on diabetes, a chronic disease that affects more than 29 million Americans.
Brooks’s exit comes as the specialty center struggles to attract research dollars and faces challenges in competing with the many other health care providers that offer services for diabetes patients. The nonprofit clinic has struggled financially in the past: It swung from a $15 million loss in 2010 to a $3 million profit in 2013, according to tax filings.
When Brooks became chief executive, he was the third in two years, following Dr. Kenneth Quickel Jr. and Ranch C. Kimball, the state economic development secretary under then-governor Mitt Romney.
Joslin’s specialists have researched diabetes for more than a century; the center was established in 1898 by Dr. Elliott P. Joslin, the first US physician to specialize in diabetes.
Brooks, as chief executive, sought to commercialize more of that research — for example, by codeveloping products with pharmaceutical and medical device companies.
John Hallinan, chief business officer at the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, a trade group, said Brooks frequented industry meetings and conventions to stay connected to life sciences executives.
“You don’t always see people in those positions attending those kinds of events. It demonstrates his commitment,” Hallinan said. “He was a very visible member of the [life sciences] community.”
Brooks said he was instrumental in launching the collaboration announced last week between Joslin, the tech giant Google Inc., and the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi SA, parent of Genzyme Corp. in Cambridge. The companies, along with Joslin, plan to develop technology and analyze data to improve the way patients around the world manage their diabetes.
Brooks declined to discuss his other achievements at Joslin because he is no longer the chief executive.
“I’m focused on what I need to do going forward,” he said. “This won’t be the last you’re going to hear from me.”