Backed by a billionaire entrepreneur and two prestigious universities, a team of scientists is preparing to take a big leap beyond the human genome. Today, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University unveiled plans for a new institute designed to transform genetic research into clinical medicine. The institute is fueled by an initial pledge of $100 million from Eli Broad, a Los Angeles businessman, and will be headed by Eric Lander, chief of the Whitehead Institute–MIT genome center in Cambridge.
The Broad Institute emerged after 2 years of tough negotiations over funding, location, and organization (Science, 21 December 2001, p. 2451). Broad may be known best in Los Angeles as an art connoisseur. But he also has plowed millions of dollars into a biological sciences laboratory at Pasadena's California Institute of Technology.
In addition to Broad's $100 million pledge, MIT and Harvard are committed to raising up to $200 million more in the next decade. The Broad Institute will aim to pull together specialists in more than a half-dozen disciplines to understand the cell and use genetic information to create tools in the fight against cancer, diabetes, and inflammatory and infectious diseases. The ambitious effort will be based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where a dozen faculty and 30 associate faculty members will be supported by a starting budget of $30 million a year. Unlike the Whitehead, the Broad Institute will not be an independent entity; MIT will administer it on behalf of the partners.
Broad Institute leaders have not yet succeeded in bringing private industry into the picture. Novartis, the Basel-based pharmaceutical company, moved its R&D center to Cambridge last year and expressed interest in joining this partnership. Negotiators failed to reach an agreement before the memorandum of understanding was signed last week, however. Mark Fishman, Novartis's biomedical research chief, says that “we want to be part of such things, and this is just one of the possible ways.” Lander and Stuart Schreiber, a Harvard chemist who will be part of the founding faculty, say the new institute will emphasize the need to make data freely available, and they predict that companies will understand the need to collaborate openly.