Billionaire gifts Harvard a historic $200M to ‘expedite’ translational biomedical research work

The soil at Harvard’s biotech fields just got richer, thanks to a $200 million gift from billionaire Len Blavatnik’s family foundation.

“The overarching goal of the gift is to accelerate the pace of therapeutic discovery by shortening the trajectory between basic discovery and transformation of insights into therapies,” Harvard Medical School wrote of the pledge, which is the largest in its 236-year history.

“Insufficient funding for therapeutic discovery, inadequate support for enabling technologies and a cultural divide between academic and industry scientists,” the reasoning goes, are some of the current barriers to translating discovery into therapies. This gift aims to break them down one by one.

Len Blavatnik

One of the most visible steps will be the launch of the Blavatnik Harvard Life Lab Longwood, to be located on the Harvard Medical School campus and modeled upon the Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab, which has housed biotech startups like Akouos, Antara Therapeutics and Blue Therapeutics. The incubator will offer resources for business building as well as expert advisers to any Harvard students, researchers and faculty interested in launching their own biotech and life sciences ventures.

This physical space follows a string of Blavatnik initiatives to foster entrepreneurship at Harvard, from the Biomedical Accelerator Fund in 2007, to the Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator and the Blavatnik Fellowship in Life Science Entrepreneurship created with a $50 million gift in 2013.

The money will also go toward talent recruitment — specifically experts who can “harness new data-rich technologies to advance biological research.”

In conjunction with its effort to bring in bioengineers, physicists, quantitative analysts and computational biologist, the school is creating a data science core facility where life sciences researchers can put AI tools to work.

Researchers based on the Harvard Medical School campus will be spurred to work with scientists from Harvard Medical School’s affiliated teaching hospitals and research institutions through a new collaborative-grants program. Within the school, departments are also encouraged to come together under a newly named Blavatnik Institute.

The technological infrastructure at Harvard is also getting a boost from the new funding, from molecular imaging and visualization to single-cell sequencing and high-throughput screening.

“It has long been my goal to support innovative, breakthrough scientific research and to expedite the translation of scientific discovery into treatments and cures,” Blavatnik said in a statement. “Harvard Medical School, with its unparalleled history of scientific achievement, creativity and science entrepreneurship, is the ideal partner to further this dream.”

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