The Starr Foundation will award $100 million to five leading cancer research institutes in November, including the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
The Broad Institute—a research coalition among MIT, Harvard, and several Harvard-affiliated hospitals, including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute—will share the five-year grant with four New York research centers. The recipients include Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Rockefeller University, and Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
The New York-based foundation has donated to Harvard in the past—including a $5 million gift for financial aid in 2004. The new money will fund the development of technology designed to investigate the molecular causes of cancer and, in turn, use this technology to create viable treatment options for patients, according to the Starr Foundation.
A far loftier goal of the grant is to encourage up-and-coming scientists to think outside the box.
"It’s really a call to the next generation to take the tools and apply them in a bold way. It’s an opportunity for young scientists to think big," said Eric S. Lander, director of the Broad Institute. "The [National Institute of Health] budget has fallen 12 percent, and it’s sending a message to young scientists that [ambition is] not valued. This could not be further from the truth."
And institutes cannot go it alone—any projects funded by the money must involve scientists from at least two of the five research centers.
"Our goal in launching the Starr Cancer Consortium is to bring these exceptional institutions together in a manner that assures maximum efficiency and the greatest firepower in targeting cancer,” said Maurice R. Greenberg, the chairman of the Starr Foundation, in a press release. “This will enable us to achieve tangible results more quickly and decisively than any one or two members of the consortium could accomplish working alone.”
The Starr Foundation—along with representatives from the five institutions—will divvy up the offer this November based on research plans proposed by the recipients.
The Broad Institute has been analyzing the loss and amplification of parts of the genome, and it has been conducting sequencing experiments to identify key mutations in genes—springing the institute to the forefront of cancer research.
But collaboration is still necessary, Lander said.
“We need to combine clinical medicine, computational science, chemistry, and molecular biology. No one person and no one research group has all these tools,” he said. “The medicine of the future will be led by bringing together teams to tackle a specific problem.”