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The Scripps Research Institute's Florida satellite campus.

The Scripps Research Institute's Florida satellite campus.

Julian Voss-Andreae/Wikimedia

Scripps ends merger talks with USC

The marriage is off. Officials at the Scripps Research Institute announced yesterday that they’ve called off discussions with the University of Southern California (USC) on a possible merger. The two institutions began exploring the idea of partnering last month. But a bitter revolt from Scripps faculty seems to have scuttled the talks.

“Representatives from The Scripps Research Institute’s Board of Trustees, administration and faculty are in the process of coming together to analyze and discuss the strategic future of Scripps, reviewing a broad range of thoughtful alternatives to choose the best path forward for the institution,” reads a statement from Scripps’s president, Michael Marletta, and the chair of its board of trustees, Richard Gephardt. “To facilitate the holistic nature of this review, the current nonbinding letter of intent on discussions about a broad partnership with the University of Southern California (USC) has been terminated by mutual consent of both parties. We appreciate USC’s spirit of collaboration and look forward to continuing joint research projects among our scientists.”

The world’s largest private biomedical research institute, with campuses in San Diego, California, and Jupiter, Florida, Scripps has been forced to the altar because of financial troubles. It gets the lion’s share of its annual operating budget of $310 million from federal research grants, primarily from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But the amount of NIH dollars Scripps brings in has dropped 12% between 2007 and 2013. Scripps has also failed to find successors to lucrative deals with pharmaceutical firms that have ended.

USC, by contrast, has both deeper pockets and more diverse sources of income. In addition to undergraduate tuition and income from clinical services, USC is in the midst of a campaign to add $6 billion to its endowment.

Media reports about the proposed merger suggested that USC was offering to pay $15 million over 40 years to absorb the 262-member Scripps faculty. But those researchers revolted. Ten department chairs and a dean sent a letter to Marletta and Gephardt saying the proposed terms of the deal were “not even close to what it would take to build faculty support.” Chemical & Engineering News reported yesterday that Scripps faculty members voted nearly unanimously to reject Marletta’s leadership, a message Scripps officials seem to have heard loud and clear.