RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Leslie Alexandre, chief executive officer of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, is stepping down after nearly five years on the job to pursue other opportunities.

Saying she had accomplished what she set out to do, Alexandre told the Biotech Center staff on Monday that she would leave as of March 31.

"Leading the Biotechnology Center since 2002 has been exciting and rewarding," Alexandre said in a statement. "I leave having accomplished what I set out to do when I arrived: strengthen the Biotechnology Center’s programs; services and infrastructure and expand its reach to all corners of the state through the establishment of regional offices; secure greater State funding to support additional innovative research projects and company startups; increase life science company expansions and attractions by building high-impact partnerships with the N.C. Department of Commerce and other economic developers; and broaden global recognition of North Carolina as a leading place to conduct biotechnology research, development and commercialization."

Alexandre’s decision caught some of her colleagues by surprise, including Monica Doss, who leads the Council for Entrepreneurial Development. Alexandre is a member of the CED board, and Doss praised her leadership.

“Leslie is an extremely focused person, and she mobilized the staff at the Biotech Center,” Doss said. “They had a lot of reorganization to do to get to the next level. I give her a lot of credit as a change agent in a positive way.

“She had to change something that was very good and make it great,” Doss added. “I give her a lot of credit. We needed it. It was time. It was time to take stock of ourselves and realize we weren’t the only biotech state in the union.”

Alexandre, a former executive with the National Cancer Institute, replaced Charles Hamner, who retired after leading the Biotech Center for 14 years. Under her leadership, the Center greatly expanded its reach, opening five regional offices across the state in an attempt to expand North Carolina’s life science industry.

Jim Roberts, who founded the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council and sought ways of bringing more life science opportunities to the western part of the state, hailed Alexandre’s efforts.

“I have a ton of respect for Dr. Alexandre,” Roberts said. “She always seemed willing to help the western part of the state. [She had] quite a challenge to do [with] so much work to be done within a big state like North Carolina. And her solution was to hire great people like Cheryl McMurry in the west and one of my favorite people Marjorie Benbow in Charlotte.

“I thank her for the job she did and wish her luck in her new pursuits.”

McMurry and Benbow run the Biotech Center’s new offices in Asheville and Charlotte.

The Center also recently launched new grant and loan programs in late 2006 that are designed to help increase growth of small and startup life science firms.

Under her direction, the Biotech Center wrote a strategic plan for expanding the state’s life science sector that was presented to Gov. Mike Easley.

Alexandre also fought aggressively to increase funding for the Center from the N.C. General Assembly. And she played an active role in industrial recruitment, such as the landing of the new Novartis vaccine plant that will be built in Holly Springs. Alexandre worked with entrepreneurial organizations, including a post on the board of directors at the Council for Entrepreneurial Development.

"Leslie Alexandre has led the Biotechnology Center through a notable period of growth," said Sue Cole, chairwoman of the Biotechnology Center’s board of directors, in a statement. "She has helped enhance North Carolina’s reputation as a ‘biotech-friendly’ state. Citizens will benefit in the coming years from the groundwork she has laid."

The Biotech Center was launched in 1984 and moved into its current headquarters in 1992.