Harvard gets $200M gift to accelerate early-stage R&D

Harvard Medical School. (timsackton/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Harvard Medical School has received a $200 million gift to fund life science R&D. The gift, the largest in the school’s 236-year history, will enable Harvard to set up an incubator for biotech startups and invest in its research capabilities.

Len Blavatnik, a billionaire industrialist, made the gift via his philanthropic foundation. The cash will support a range of initiatives at Harvard, from the creation of the aforementioned incubator to the improvement of imaging capabilities at the cryo-electron microscopy center. While the scope of the spending is broad, Harvard is presenting it as having a unified end goal.

“One of the core opportunities Len and I have discussed together is to shorten the period of time between our deep investments in fundamental research and our ability to translate that into new treatments,” George Daley, dean of Harvard Medical School, told Bloomberg.

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The spending plan laid out by Harvard spans from fundamental research, through drug discovery and on to the creation of biotechs to hustle medicines through the clinic and onto the market. Harvard’s incubator, which will follow the model of Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab, will support one far end of that process by providing early-stage biotech startups with workspace.

Other investments will support research that could ultimately lead to new companies. In addition to the outlay on cryo-electron microscopy, Harvard has earmarked cash for single-cell sequencing and high-throughput screening equipment.

Harvard is also set to spend money to recruit people who can use its technologies and make sense of the data they generate. The hiring plan skews toward the types of roles that are being created by new technologies. Data scientists, computational biologists and bioengineers are high on Harvard’s list of hiring targets.

The receipt of the gift that will support this work follows shortly after the conclusion of a funding drive by the medical school. That earlier effort raised $789 million, around two-thirds of which will support research.