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Harvard Medical School Gets $200M for Precision Medicine Research

The largest donation in Harvard Medical School history will enhance precision medicine research and develop artificial intelligence tools to improve care.

Harvard Medical School receives $200 million for precision medicine research

Source: Thinkstock

By Jessica Kent

- Harvard Medical School (HMS) has received a $200 million grant that will help accelerate precision medicine research, advance artificial intelligence, and increase scientific collaboration.

The gift from the Blavatnik Family Foundation, will help researchers overcome barriers that have previously hindered the integration of research and routine clinical care.  

“We are deeply grateful to the Blavatnik Family Foundation for the resounding vote of confidence in Harvard Medical School,” said Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow.

“This tremendous act of generosity will speed progress and generate profound and lasting contributions to science and human health. In each aspect of the gift, one recognizes not only a deep commitment to supporting outstanding research but also a fundamental understanding of and respect for the nature of the scientific enterprise—and the hope it holds for all of humanity.”

The gift will fund a precision medicine initiative that will eliminate obstacles to therapeutic optimization, including insufficient funding for therapeutic discovery, inadequate support for new technologies, and the cultural divide between academia and industry scientists.

HMS will use the donation to boost the imaging capabilities of the Harvard Cryo-Electron Microscopy Center for Structural Biology. Cryo-EM allows scientists to observe life at the atomic level and make innovative health discoveries.

For example, Cryo-EM has helped scientists discover the proteins that make tumors resistant to chemotherapy and bacteria resistant to certain drugs. The donation will allow Cryo-EM to fuel the design of next-generation precision therapies for a range of diseases.

The Blavatnik grant will also enhance single-cell sequencing, which offers far greater precision and informs how the smallest cellular shifts can influence health and disease. Additionally, HMS will work to improve its screening capabilities and accelerate precision therapies. One such treatment will provide precision-targeted drugs for a specific type of lung cancer.

“There's no waiting for the science to get there,” said Steven McCarroll, HMS Dorothy and Milton Flier Professor of Biomedical Science and Genetics and director of genetics at the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

“We need to drive the science forward and share it exuberantly so that these advances can get to the people who we love.”

The grant will also help HMS scientists leverage artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other data-driven strategies to generate insights on a wide range of biological phenomena. HMS will create a new data science facility to enable researchers to develop, design and use innovative AI tools, and recruit experts to train fellow scientists in data-driven technologies.

The donation will facilitate collaboration among scientists with a broad range of skills, expertise, and disciplines, and help them work together to solve some of the most significant issues in biomedicine.  

“This transformational gift will bring us closer to solving the most intractable health challenges of our time,” said George Q. Daley, dean of Harvard Medical School.

“The work that takes place in the labs and clinics across Harvard Medical School embodies the promise of curiosity-driven fundamental research to solve some of humanity’s most confounding and pressing biomedical challenges. In that sense, this is a gift to medicine and, indeed, to patients everywhere.”

HMS will launch the Blavatnik Harvard Life Lab Longwood, which will offer collaborative workspaces for high-potential biotech and life sciences startups founded by Harvard students, alumni, and faculty. The lab will provide diverse resources including industry-specific programming and expert advisors and mentors.

“It has long been my goal to support innovative, breakthrough scientific research and to expedite the translation of scientific discovery into treatments and cures,” said Len Blavatnik, a global industrialist and philanthropist and Harvard Business School alumnus.

“Harvard Medical School, with its unparalleled history of scientific achievement, creativity and science entrepreneurship, is the ideal partner to further this dream. I am confident that the School will make the most of this gift to build on its tradition of scientific greatness in the years ahead,” Blavatnik said. 

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