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March 24, 2016

Paul G. Allen Launches $100M Frontiers Group

  • Entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist Paul G. Allen has committed an initial $100 million to create The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, toward a 10-year plan focused on exploring and funding cutting-edge bioscience.

    Headquartered in Seattle, the new group said it will use external listening tours, workshops, symposia, and major events to engage in continuous dialogue with scientists, visionaries, and innovators worldwide: “The group will synthesize their findings to find the untapped areas of exploration that will lead to transformational insights and achievements in science.”

    The Frontiers Group will pursue two paths. One consists of funding “Allen Distinguished Investigators,” who will explore new science approaches “with exceptional creativity and catalytic impact.” The other path will create and fund Allen Discovery Centers at partner institutions.

    The group yesterday disclosed its first cohort of funded projects with four new Allen Distinguished Investigators (ADI) and two Allen Discovery Centers, in partnership with Stanford University and Tufts University.

    Each of the selected investigators won $1.5 million each toward their projects:

    • Ethan Bier, Ph.D., University of California, San Diego, “Biological Innovation and Active Genetics”

     

    • James J. Collins, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “Synthetic Biology Approaches to Antimicrobial Resistance”

     

    • Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, “Antiviral Machinery and Cell Editing Platforms”

     

    • Bassem Hassan, Ph.D., Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle épinière, “How Developmental Noise in Neural Circuit Development Determines the Unique Behavior of Individuals”
       

    The two “Discovery Centers” are Stanford University, where Markus Covert, Ph.D., will lead researchers in studyingMultiscale, Systems Modeling of Macrophage Infection.” Computational modelers, bioengineers, and bioscientists will create new models designed to represent large systems of whole cells comprehensively, as well as their dynamic environments and interactions, starting with a focus on Salmonella infection of immune cells called macrophages.

    The other center is Tufts University, where Michael Levin, Ph.D., will lead researchers seeking to read, interpret and manipulate the biological code that determines anatomical structure and function during embryogenesis, regeneration, and tumor suppression. “Reading and Writing the Morphogenetic Code” will focus on the processing of instructive patterning information via bioelectric signaling among cells.

    Additional Allen Discovery Centers and Allen Distinguished Investigators will be identified and named via both curation and open competitions over the 10-year period, the group said.

    The Frontiers Group has named Tom Skalak, Ph.D., as its founding executive. He was previously vp for research at the University of Virginia, where he conducted bioengineering research for 28 years, spanning topics from the cellular basis of microvascular adaptation to computational modeling of tissue pattern formation. Dr. Skalak is a past-president of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.

    “Over the next 50 years bioscience will undergo a radical transformation as advancements in life sciences converge with mathematics, physical sciences, and engineering,” says Skalak. “The time is now to make this type of transformative investment in bioscience to advance the field and ultimately to make the world better.”

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