Stanley Gives Broad Institute $650M Gift For Psych Research

7/22/14Follow @benthefidler

The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, MA, has struck a number of industry partnerships over the past few years to try to discover new drugs for cancer, bacterial and viral infections, and other diseases. Today, it’s landed one of the largest research gifts ever to try to unearth treatments in the notoriously difficult field of psychiatric disorders.

The Broad Institute, the non-profit genomics and biomedical research institute staffed by Harvard and MIT scientists, is receiving a $650 million gift from philanthropist Ted Stanley to help spur research into central nervous system disorders and light the way for new treatments for diseases like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism. The cash—which will come in annual installments—will specifically support the work of researchers within the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute. Stanley, the founder of MBI, has now committed more than $825 million to the Broad Institute.

CNS research, of course, is one of the most challenging fields for researchers to innovate and create new drugs for. Despite the prevalence of debilitating diseases like autism and schizophrenia, the underlying biology behind them isn’t well understood. A slew of drug candidates for such diseases have flopped in clinical trials over the years as researchers and life sciences companies struggle to try to find ways not just to manage those disorders, but effectively treat them. Many pharmaceutical companies have shied away from the field as a result.

The Broad Institute is saying today, however, that new insights driven by advances in human genomics and gene sequencing technologies—namely, the discovery of genes associated with certain psychiatric disorders—are helping lead researchers to potential solutions. Specifically, the Broad Institute says it’s assembled more than 175,000 DNA samples—the world’s “largest collection of DNA samples in psychiatric research.” Further, the institute says that that analysis of about half of those samples has led its researchers to find over 100 regions of the genome to link to schizophrenia and begin to understand the mutations that can trigger the disease.

These genomic insights are just an early step in a long journey, of course. The Broad Institute hasn’t found a new molecular target to potentially hit with a drug. But it’s hoping to help form some semblance of a roadmap to real treatments.

“Human genomics has begun to reveal the causes of these disorders. We still have a long way to go, but for the first time we can point to specific genes and biological processes. It’s now time to step on the gas pedal,” Stanley said in a statement. “I am devoting my personal wealth to this goal. But it will take all of us—philanthropists, government funding agencies, scientists, patients, and families—working together to achieve it.”

Ben Fidler is Xconomy's Deputy Biotechnology Editor. You can e-mail him at bfidler@xconomy.com Follow @benthefidler

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