$200 Million Gift For Harvard Medical School, Biggest In Its History, To Speed Research

Harvard Medical School (Wikimedia Commons)
Harvard Medical School (Wikimedia Commons)

Harvard Medical School has received a pledge for the biggest gift in its 236-year history, the school announced on Thursday: $200 million aimed mainly at turning research into treatments faster.

The gift, from the Blavatnik Family Foundation — named for Soviet-born industrialist Len Blavatnik, who got a Harvard MBA --- will support work in several directions, Harvard Medical School says.

They will include: research on basic science, treatments, data science and an incubator for biotech startups. The school will name a research institute — an umbrella encompassing the school's 10 academic departments — in honor of the Blavatnik gift, it says.

"Biomedicine is at a unique inflection point, marked by a dizzying pace of discovery and rapid proliferation of new technologies," the release says. "The gift will enable Harvard Medical School to harness unprecedented opportunities for discovery and remove barriers that historically have stymied efforts to expedite the translation of basic insights into promising treatments."

It quotes Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow on donor Len Blavatnik: “Len is one of this generation’s greatest philanthropists. He understands that great strides in human health comprise many steps taken by many people over long periods of time.”

The Blavatnik Family Foundation already extensively supports research, including a $250,000 award for young scientists.

The gift will fund the medical school's "therapeutics initiative," which aims to eliminate barriers that could slow the path from basic science discovery to clinical treatment — "such as insufficient funding for therapeutic discovery, inadequate support for enabling technologies and a cultural divide between academic and industry scientists," the release says.

The money will also support cutting-edge research technologies including advanced microscopes, single-cell DNA sequencing, high-throughput drug screening and artificial intelligence. And it will create the Blavatnik Harvard Life Lab Longwood, the biotech incubator.

The foundation had already been a big donor to Harvard Medical School, including a $50 million gift five years ago.

The Boston Globe reports that Blavatnik donated $1 million to President Trump's inauguration committee and has come under fire for allegations that he is connected with Russian oligarchs.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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