More than 20 philanthropists have joined to donate $20 million to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard toward a project intended to fight tuberculosis (TB).
The project will apply genomic tools and methods to tackle drug resistance and learn more about M. tuberculosis, the bacteria that cause the disease. Broad Institute researchers will use libraries of genetically altered strains of TB to help answer some key questions about TB, such as why it takes so long to treat the disease and how the bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.
The project is also designed to speed up the development of a rapid diagnostic test for drug-resistant TB, as well as lay the groundwork for the development of new drugs that could potentially lead to short treatment regimens.
“TB has been around for a long time, and we're not going to defeat it tomorrow. But with the amazing advances that are taking place today in biomedicine, and thanks to this wonderful gift, we are able to take the best and latest technology and tools and turn them against this widespread, ancient disease,” Deborah Hung, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the Broad's Infectious Disease Program and a core member, said in a statement. Dr. Hung is also a faculty member at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital and an infectious disease physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Dr. Hung is a member of the Broad’s research team that will carry out the TB research funded through the gift. The team also includes James J. Collins, Ph.D.; Stewart L. Fisher, Ph.D.; Eric Rubin, M.D., Ph.D.; and Ramnik Xavier, M.D., Ph.D.
Seth Klarman, CEO and president of the Baupost Group and a member of the Broad’s board of directors, and Bill Ackman, co-founder of the Pershing Square Foundation and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, have partnered to raise awareness and donations from other financial services leaders against TB.
Ackman and his wife Karen established the foundation in 2006. The foundation has since allied with the Sohn Conference Foundation to form the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance, with the goal of accelerating cures for cancer.
The alliance will now expand its work to the fight against TB: “We take great pride in providing this innovative team of scientists with the resources they need to tackle this challenging and uncharted area of TB research,” said Olivia Tournay Flatto, Ph.D., the alliance’s co-founder and executive director said in the statement.
Ackman made news last year when, as largest shareholder of the former Allergan, Inc., he supported an attempted hostile takeover of the company by Valeant Pharmaceuticals International. Allergan instead agreed to be acquired by Actavis, under a $70.5 billion acquisition completed earlier this year, and has since renamed itself Allergan plc.
Klarman—who has served on Broad’s board since 2009—stated he was drawn to the targeted approach of the organization's Infectious Disease Program: “It has become increasingly clear that we need to develop a new set of tools for those on the front lines.
“The first $20 million is going to help propel advances that will inspire and attract further investment. And as a result, millions of people around the world will benefit,” Klarman said.