Paul Allen – a billionaire philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft – has founded a $100 million bioscience research initiative to fund innovative research over the next 10 years. The funding will also be used to launch two new Allen Discovery Centers.
Thirteen years ago, Allen funded his self-titled Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington – a nonprofit medical research group aimed at improving our understanding of the human brain. The new bioscience initiative – named the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group – has already chosen four researchers to receive $1.5 million each, for their respective studies.
The researchers who will receive the grants – namely, Jennifer Doudna of the University of California (UC), Berkeley, Ethan Bier of UC San Diego, James Collins of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and Bassem Hassan of the Brain and Spine Institute in Paris – have research interests as varied as gene editing, evolution and synthetic biology. Doudna in particular, is already a well-known scientist based on her contribution to the invention of the CRISPR gene editing technique.
Allen will also contribute $30 million to the development of two new research centers at Tufts University in Boston, and Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Researchers at Tufts plan on learning more about the cellular processes involved in tissue formation, while the Stanford researchers will focus on modelling the interaction between immune cells and bacteria.
The focus of the biosciences initiative is to find cutting-edge research that might be too risky to gain funding from conventional sources. “To make the kind of transformational advances we seek and thus shape a better future, we must invest in scientists willing to pursue what some might consider out-of-the-box approaches at the very edges of knowledge,” said Allen. “This of course entails a risk of setbacks and failures. But without risk, there is rarely significant reward, and unless we try truly novel approaches, we may never find the answers we seek.”
The launch of this initiative is the result of an eight-month tour conducted by Allen’s team, whereby over 1,000 experts were asked to identify the gaps in funding for promising research projects. Senior scientists, junior scientists and even policy-makers were among the experts interviewed by Allen’s team.
“Over the next 50 years bioscience will undergo a radical transformation as advancements in life sciences converge with mathematics, physical sciences and engineering,” said Dr. Tom Skalak, founding Executive Director of The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group. “The time is now to make this type of transformative investment in bioscience to advance the field and ultimately make the world better.”