By Kevin Davies
Sept. 4, 2008 | CAMBRIDGE – Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad and his wife Edythe have announced a new $400 million endowment that secures the future of the Broad Institute.
The announcement was made on the institute’s fourth anniversary by Eli Broad in the packed lobby of the building. “This country has been more than good to us,” he said. “It’s a privilege and a responsibility to give back some of our financial resources to make the world a better place.”
Broad said his gift would ensure that the work would continue, making the institute “the place where the greatest discoveries take place.” He hoped that his total gifts of $600 million would rise to the $1 billion mark, enabling Broad researchers to continue making headway in the fight to improve human health. To which Broad Institute founding director Eric Lander could just say, “Wow!”
Nobel laureate David Baltimore, the founding director of the Whitehead Institute, who first introduced Broad to institute director Eric Lander, called this “a seminal day in the history of biomedical research.”
He stressed how essential private philanthropy was in the biomedical research arena. “Why couldn’t Eric turn to the NIH [and its nearly $30 billion budget]?” he asked. Because the NIH is “not in a position or of a mindset to be innovative,” he said, at least until a new director is appointed.
Among others paying tribute to the Broads for their vision and unsurpassed generosity were Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, MIT President Susan Hockfield, and Harvard University President Drew Faust.
Before the announcement, a video tribute to the culture and accomplishments of the Broad Institute featured vignettes from faculty and staff, as well as former President Bill Clinton, Senator John Kerry, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. One institute member summed up the collective mood of the “Broadies” saying, “If it’s not impossible, we’re really not that interested.”
Lander told Broad he had also received letters of appreciation from Senator Ted Kennedy, Bill Gates, and a certain senator from Illinois with presidential aspirations.
Announcing the endowment, Eli Broad praised the staff of the institute, saying he was betting on Lander and his team to come up with new ideas, creative approaches, and innovation. He also leaned heavily on advice from respected scientific leaders such as Baltimore, as he confessed to knowing little about science or medicine. Much of his philanthropic activity since retiring from commerce 10 years ago has been in improving K-12 education and the arts.
In 2001, after first being introduced to Lander by Baltimore, Eli Broad gave a grant to Lander for a study on inflammatory bowel disease. The next year, he vested $100 million to establish the institute, which was matched and jointly administered by MIT and Harvard University. The Broads subsequently doubled their donation. The new $400 million investment allows the institute to create a significant endowment that Lander hopes will eventually climb to $1 billion. The Broad Institute sits next to the Whitehead, which spun out the Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research under Lander’s direction in 1990.
Broad declared the past four years “a great success,” noting the institute had grown to 1200 people, 330,000 square feet, a grant funding rate of greater than 40 percent, 300 published manuscripts, and a string of notable scientific firsts – 20 mammalian genomes, the HapMap project, the Cancer Genome Atlas, and much more.
Through faculty members such as chemical biologist Stuart Schreiber, oncologist Todd Golub, geneticist David Altshuler, and CIO Jill Mesirov, the Broad has rapidly established itself as a multifaceted post-genomic institute devoted to developing new tools and insights into what is loosely called genomic medicine.