Philanthropist Ted Stanley has committed $650 million to The Broad Institute, which said today it will use the money to galvanize scientific research on psychiatric disorders, with the goal of developing new treatments based on molecular targets.

The commitment is the largest ever for psychiatric research, and one of the largest ever in overall scientific research. The institute said Stanley’s funds will support research by a collaborative network of researchers within the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute, whose faculty includes investigators from MIT, Harvard University, the Harvard-affiliated hospitals, and collaborating researchers worldwide.

The institute outlined four major goals for the research: 

  • Complete the list of all genes that play roles in severe psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, and others
  • Reveal the biological pathways in which these genes act
  • Develop cellular and animal models that faithfully mimic human disorders; and
  • Develop chemicals to modulate biological pathways to serve as drug leads.

 “We are going to illuminate the biology behind these conditions,” Eric S. Lander, Ph.D., founding director and president of the Broad Institute, said in a statement. “If we know the biological causes, we can begin to dispel the stigma around people battling mental illness, and rigorously pursue better treatments that will transform patients' lives.”

Added Stanley, whose son’s bipolar disorder has fueled his quest to support research into mental illness: “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.”

“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,” Stanley added.

Stanley’s latest commitment will consist of a series of annual gifts during his lifetime, followed by a bequest upon his death. Including that commitment, Stanley has donated or committed a total $825 million to The Broad over the past decade.

Since 2004, he and his late wife Vada Stanley have made gifts to the institute intended to identify the genetic risk factors for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and apply those discoveries to launch drug development efforts. The Stanley Center was established in 2007, and today supports a collaboration of scientists from 25 countries.

Stanley and the institute hope to jumpstart long-stalled research into new treatments, the development of which most biopharmas have stopped pursuing given the difficulty of understanding the molecular causes of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Until five years ago, according to Broad, there was no clear scientific evidence around even a single gene that contributes to causing either disorder.

More recently, with support from Stanley, Broad Institute researchers have supported collaborative networks of researchers from more than 60 institutions in 25 countries. The researchers have assembled what the institute says is the world's largest collection of DNA samples in psychiatric research — currently at over 175,000 samples — including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and healthy control samples.

Some 80,000 of these samples have been analyzed to date by Broad researchers and collaborators, who as a result have linked more than 100 genomic regions to schizophrenia and begun to identify specific gene mutations and underlying biological processes.

In a paper published yesterday in Nature – the largest analysis to date on the genetics of schizophrenia – researchers found 83 regions of the genome linked to the disorder that had not been previously flagged, and confirmed 25 previously identified ones, bringing the total to 108. The study analyzed 37,000 people with schizophrenia and 114,000 who did not have the disorder.

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