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CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Given how productive the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT has been and how quickly it has become a fixture in the world of genomics research, it may come as a surprise to some that not only was it founded a mere four years ago but that it was, until early September, still on probation in a sense. That has changed, however, with Los Angeles-based philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad adding $400 million to their previous $200 million in gifts to the institute.
Launched in 2004 in the wake of the Human Genome Project (HGP), the Broad was charged with fulfilling the promise of genomics for medicine and the goal of sustaining the collaborative spirit that propelled the HGP—bringing together scientists to tackle major interdisciplinary problems related to cancer, metabolic diseases, infectious diseases, psychiatric diseases and other conditions. But it was essentially launched as a 10-year "venture" experiment.
"Of all of our philanthropy, the Broad Institute has been the investment that has yielded the greatest returns," says Eli Broad, founder of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. "This truly is a new way of doing science, and the Institute's unique collaborative model for scientific research has resulted in remarkable accomplishments in a very short period of time. Although this is a large gift…it is only a fraction of what will be needed to unlock the enormous promise of biomedical research at MIT and Harvard."
It is Eli Broad's hope, and a goal of the institute as well, that the endowment will grow to at least $1 billion through investments and additional gifts. He notes that "we are counting on others to step forward as partners in the next phase of this grand experiment. We are convinced that the genomics and biomedical work being conducted here at the world's leading genomics center by the world's best and brightest scientists will ultimately lead to the cure and even the prevention of diseases."
Although he points out the Broad Institute shares the stage with other major institutions for genomics research worldwide, Dr. Alan Guttmacher, acting director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, says that from the start, "the Broad has been a leading partner in developing genomic resources that have revolutionized the understanding of biology."
The Chronicle of Higher Education, which tracks gifts like this one, notes that the Broads' donation is the highest ever given to an American academic institution for biomedical research. Some media outlets suggest it is the largest in the world, but the Chronicle indicates that National Taiwan University received a gift of $454.5 million last year for cancer research and care.
The Broads initially invested $100 million in 2003 as a way to test the institute's new approach to biomedical research. By 2005, the Broad Institute had already made significant accomplishments and progress, and the Broads invested a second $100 million. Their endowment of $400 million in September will allow the Broad Institute to transition to a permanent, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with both Harvard and MIT still at the heart of it and continuing to govern the institute.
MIT President Susan Hockfield and Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust both reaffirmed their dedication to working together on the Broad Institute.
"Today, we take together the next logical step," Hockfield said on the day the $400 million gift was announced. "And MIT is fully committed to fostering the Broad Institute as it becomes a permanent feature of the biomedical landscape. The same day, Faust said, "The name Broad has become synonymous with collaboration, with audacity and with success. [It] has become a symbol of what the biomedical enterprise must become: a collaboration that is truly greater than the sum of its parts."
"Every good experiment leads to the need for more experiments," says Broad Institute director, also on the day of the announcement. "What we really want to know is not whether we can create a successful institute, but whether we, as a community and as a world, can transform human health. That answer will take decades. With Eli and Edythe's gift of a permanent endowment, we can focus on this goal. Five years ago, you gave us room to experiment. Today you give us room to fly." DDN