Robertson Gives Rockefeller $25M For Drug Discovery

1/23/14Follow @benthefidler

Christmas came late for Rockefeller University, in the form of a $25 million check to help keep some of its promising drug discovery projects afloat.

A gift from the Robertson Foundation, formed by former hedge fund manager Julian Robertson and his family, will allow for the creation of the Robertson Therapeutic Development Fund at Rockefeller, one of the major research institutions in New York City. Rockefeller will use the fund to shepherd university research discoveries in life sciences forward, so they don’t run out of money and have the chance to ultimately become new drugs or diagnostic tests.

The fund will support these programs over a five-year period, and gives Rockefeller the ability to award grants of between $10,000 to $1 million apiece to projects it picks out. The smaller grants would help researchers get the chance to identify potential drug targets. The larger ones would fund drug design, toxicology studies, and potentially Phase I clinical trials. An independent committee will review the grant requests.

Rockefeller president Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement that the grants would help projects that have gotten past the basic research stage, but haven’t gotten the type of data yet to woo venture investors or industry players.

“[This] will enable these projects to move forward, and the fund’s flexible, multi-tiered structure will ensure that the resources are used efficiently to support projects that have the greatest potential to benefit patients,” he added.

The fund’s also meant to cover the types of projects that aren’t being pushed forward by the newly-created Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute, a non-profit venture between Rockefeller, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Weill Cornell Medical College designed to speed the translation of early-stage research at each institution into new drugs and diagnostics. The fund, for instance, will help support the development of biologics, like therapeutic antibodies.

Robertson, the founder of one of the earliest hedge funds, Tiger Management, has been on Rockefeller’s board of trustees since 2001.

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

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