In loving memory of Donald G. Comb, Founder of New England Biolabs, Inc.
Ipswich, MA (October 5, 2020) — It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Donald G. Comb the founder of New England Biolabs, Inc. (NEB).
Don’s commitment to science led to the establishment of NEB in 1974, and his scientific vision shaped the company as the leader in the discovery and production of recombinant enzymes for molecular biology applications.
Prior to taking a position at Harvard Medical School, Don attended the University of Michigan, where he earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry. During these years, Don developed a passion for marine ecosystems. He spent many summers at the Bermuda Biological Research Station studying the development of sea urchins. He was inspired by the beauty and diversity of marine organisms and, as a result, protecting biodiversity became an important priority.
After leaving a faculty position at Harvard, Don established New England Biolabs as a cooperative of scientists dedicated to providing research tools for molecular biologists. NEB was one of the first companies to commercialize restriction enzymes which cleave DNA at specific sequences and are essential tools for recombinant DNA technology. NEB’s ability to manufacture these enzymes in large quantities with increased purity and characterization helped advance the field of molecular biology.
Furthermore, Don’s vision of a company that used commercial revenue to fund its own basic research was unprecedented at the time. Basic and applied research functions were established to support and complement one another, and to this day, NEB maintains an active research program that has published over 1,300 scientific publications.
A brilliant scientist, mentor to many and an insightful businessman, Don’s aspiration for NEB was to remain a small, private business that focused on steady, sustainable growth. His devotion to the advancement of science, stewardship of the environment and altruistic philanthropy has been a priority for over 45 years and is reflected in NEB’s three core values: passion, humility and being genuine.
Don’s passion for science, art and the environment led to the creation of the New England Biolabs Foundation which supports and helps foster indigenous and community-based conservation in areas of high biodiversity. He also helped establish the Ocean Genome Legacy, a non-profit marine research facility dedicated to exploring and preserving the threatened biological diversity of the sea. His commitment to the environment is evident across the NEB campus—from the LEED® certified laboratory that was designed to minimize its impact on the surrounding landscape, to the Solar Aquatics Wastewater System® that treats the campus’ wastewater using solar energy, plants and microbes. Don’s beliefs are deeply woven into our corporate philosophy, and, as a result, New England Biolabs has been the recipient of numerous awards for environmental stewardship, employee satisfaction and customer experience.
In 2005, Don stepped down from his position as CEO, but continued to serve as Chairman of the Board of Directors. He also maintained an active research laboratory at NEB where he could be found working at the bench, reading scientific journals or chatting about his latest research interests with employees.
“Don’s provocative curiosity, boundless enthusiasm and commitment to the environment will continue to serve as inspiration to all of us. His vision for how a company could be run was unconventional but highly effective—people and passion over process and profit, the supply of high quality reagents at a fair price, the co-mingling of basic and applied research, and the prioritization of protecting the planet and advancing science,” stated Jim Ellard, CEO of NEB. “His generosity and the faith he had in each of us resulted in a family-like culture where everyone has a voice and all employees feel valued. We are all honored and humbled to have been a part of his life and look forward to continuing his legacy.”