Founders give Broad Institute another $100m for gene studies
MIT-Harvard effort serves as centerpiece of area biotech cluster
The Broad Institute, the young Cambridge biomedical research center whose launch was the largest-ever collaboration between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, yesterday said that founders Eli and Edythe Broad have made a second $100 million donation.
A Broad director, Eric Lander, called the money an endorsement of the institute's mission to turn vast amounts of genetic knowledge into useful medicine.
''The Broad is only 18 months old, but it has had a very eventful history already," said Lander, who previously helped sequence the human genome at the MIT-affiliated Whitehead Institute.
Since its founding in 2004, the Broad Institute has emerged as a centerpiece of the Boston-Cambridge biotechnology cluster, crunching data on human and animal genes, testing new chemicals as potential drugs, and hosting research forums that bring together some of the top young scientists at Harvard, MIT, and the area's many teaching hospitals.
The institute has also signed research deals with drug companies, including one with Swiss drug giant Novartis AG to explore the genetics of diabetes. Earlier this year, Novartis, Eli Lilly and Co., and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said they would each pay $3.6 million to help Broad scientists create bits of genetic material called RNAi to turn off individual genes that may be involved in disease.
All material discovered as a result of the Broad's corporate collaborations will be made public -- a model different from many university-industry deals which give companies an opportunity to have exclusive licenses on discoveries.
The first $100 million donation was one of the largest in the history of Harvard or MIT, and it came with an unusual requirement: Instead of investing the $100 million as an endowment, the institute must spend the money over 10 years to fund scientific projects. Yesterday's donation came with the same stipulation. That means that beginning next year, the institute will have to spend $20 million of the donations annually.
Lander yesterday said use of the money would be unrestricted, and the institute did not yet have specific plans for how it would be spent.
Eli Broad, a California philanthropist who founded two companies, poured his money into a set of foundations worth nearly $2 billion, focusing on education, science, and art.
Despite the size of the latest donation, annual disbursements from it will provide a fraction of the institute's current annual research budget of $100 million a year. The rest comes chiefly from traditional government science funding. The Broad money is used to fuel ideas considered too wide-ranging to win grants from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, which often require a tight focus on specific diseases or mechanisms.
''The guidelines for funding are almost the opposite of that of the NIH -- audacious ideas that, if successful, would be transforming," said Stuart Schreiber, a Harvard chemist who, with Lander, is one of the Broad's four principal scientists. He said the donation, coming just two years after the founding gift was disclosed in 2003, was a surprise.
''I think they're very proud of what they've created," he said of the Broads. ''They come to the research presentations, and they really do get to measure the pulse of the place."
Stephen Heuser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.