Mass. Eye and Ear, Schepens to merge

By Liz Kowalczyk
Globe Staff / June 9, 2011

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The Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Schepens Eye Research Institute, both Harvard Medical School affiliates, have decided to merge, creating the largest private eye-research organization in the world.

After years of on-again, off-again discussions about joining forces, the two institutions concluded that a merger would put them both in a better position to win research funding from the government and industry.

“Everyone is nervous about funding around the country,’’ said Dr. Joan Miller, chief of ophthalmology at Mass. Eye and Ear and chair of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. “This will make us a much more powerful research group.’’

Schepens will become a subsidiary of Mass. Eye and Ear on June 30 but will retain its name and location on Staniford Street, several blocks from Mass. Eye and Ear on Charles Street in Boston. The boards of both institutions unanimously approved the deal this week.

Mass. Eye and Ear is a 41-bed hospital, which has access to patients for clinical trials to test new drugs and procedures as well as the ability to raise philanthropic donations from patients who have been helped there. It has 1,700 employees, does about 20,000 surgeries a year, and its research focus includes retina disease, glaucoma, and genomics.

Schepens is a basic research institute with about 200 scientists and other employees whose specialties include ocular surface disease, immunology, and stem-cell therapies and who publish 100 scientific papers annually.

“This has been talked about for many years,’’ said Wyc Grousbeck, chairman of Mass. Eye and Ear’s board. “Over the last year discussions have gone very well, and we got the deal done.’’

Grousbeck and Miller said market forces — such as coming changes in the way hospitals are paid, which have prompted others hospitals to merge or consider it — were not factors in this decision.

Mass. Eye and Ear turned a profit last year, while Schepens had a small loss.

“Joining forces into a single entity will no doubt deepen collaborations across the basic and clinical sciences, ultimately opening up new doors for attacking diseases that cause blindness,’’ Dr. Jeffrey Flier, dean of Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.

Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at