Microsoft co-founder and philanthropic billionaire Paul Allen appears to have his sights on a new project focused on cell biology. At a 26 September symposium celebrating the Allen Institute for Brain Science’s 10th year, Allen called understanding cell biology “another holy grail” and admitted he was interested in developing a devoted institute, according to a Puget Sound Business Journal report. And in a recent interview with NBC News, Allen said he believes "it's the right time to start a big initiative in cell biology.”
ScienceInsider could not reach Allen for comment. But “Paul is certainly interested in it, and I think he confirmed it at our 10th anniversary,” says brain institute CEO Allan Jones. “But beyond that, it’s sort of still in the planning stages.”
Computational biologist Sean Eddy of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia, says he took part in a meeting of about 15 Allen Institute representatives and scientists in August to discuss the future of biology research, but that there was no mention of developing an institute. “We were talking about grandiose things,” Eddy says. “I got the feeling that he hadn’t really decided what the form of it would be,” he says of Allen’s possible investment. One central topic of discussion: whether the field of biology is best advanced by collecting massive data sets or by fostering small lab groups “doing experiments with their own hands, trying to find the sort of heart of something.”
Whether any new project would match the scale of the brain institute—launched with Allen’s $100 million investment, to which he added another $300 million last year—is yet to be seen.