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Broads Pay for Genetic Institute

The $100-million donation will help establish a medical research center.

June 20, 2003|Justin Gest and Mitchell Landsberg | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad announced Thursday that he and his wife, Edythe, will donate $100 million toward the establishment of a new research institute in Cambridge, Mass., dedicated to using scientists' new understanding of the human genome to create genetics-based forms of medicine.

The founding of the Broad Institute, created in collaboration with Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, will make Cambridge the nucleus for genomic medicine, scholarship and brainpower.

It was the second time in as many weeks that Broad, who just turned 70, announced a major donation. He said last week that he would give $60 million to erect a new building at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Broad, who made a fortune estimated at $5 billion in home building and financial services, has long been a major player in philanthropy, especially in Southern California. Still, back-to-back donations of such magnitude are unusual, even for him.

"Eli is always out there at the forefront of things and willing to share a good portion of his money to support it," said former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a close friend of Broad.

Riordan said he thinks the new institute "is very likely going to come up with some solution to genetic diseases and immune system diseases, which they virtually have no cure for right now."

"And maybe," Riordan added, "they can take a gene from Tiger Woods and put it in me. I'd pay a lot of money for that one!"

Plans call for the new center to have 40 affiliated faculty members. Its mission is to create an organizational model and tools for genomic medicine and make them broadly available to scientists around the world. They, in turn, can use those tools to better understand, diagnose, treat and prevent disease.

The plan is to build upon the successful efforts to map the human genetic code, Broad said in a telephone interview. "All that basic science can now be used to identify the causes of disease, prevent disease and cure various diseases."

Eric Lander, a leading genome researcher who will be the institute's director, said he views the effects of upcoming research in terms of his children.

"When they grow up and have to go to a doctor," Lander said, "I want them to have a medicine based on the knowledge of causes, not the treatment of symptoms.... The institute will inspire a whole new generation of young scientists, and empower the next generation to take on the larger collaborative projects, to think big and take risks."

The founder of home-builder KB Home and insurance giant SunAmerica, Broad has focused much of his philanthropy on political and civic causes. He contributed to the mass mailers and TV commercials that helped thwart the San Fernando Valley secession movement.

Broad and Riordan also pooled their resources to launch the Coalition for Kids, an effort to influence the makeup and policies of the Los Angeles Unified School District board. Broad also helped attract the 2000 Democratic National Convention to Staples Center.

But lately, Broad has contributed heavily to science. He donated $23 million toward Caltech's Broad Center for the Biological Sciences in Pasadena. He and his wife also maintain the Broad Medical Foundation, which funds research into inflammatory bowel disease.

A Personal Reason

Broad said a member of his family suffers from Crohn's disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease that is genetically transmitted and incurable.

Caltech President David Baltimore served as a catalyst for the creation of the new genetics institute, apparently putting the interests of science ahead of those of his own institution.

Baltimore said he had introduced Lander to Broad, who is a Caltech trustee. Lander is a leading researcher at the Whitehead Institute, which Baltimore founded 20 years ago.

Baltimore knew Lander had long hoped to found a genome research institute, and he recently urged Lander to broach the idea to Broad.

Lander and the Whitehead Institute, also based in Cambridge, played a major role in the public consortium that completed mapping the human genome.

"I knew of Eric's interest in a particular disease that interested Eli," Baltimore said. "I brought them together. Eli funded some work in Eric's lab."

When Lander approached Broad about the genome institute, "Eli was very taken with the idea," Baltimore said.

Asked why he helped arrange such a donation from a Caltech trustee to rivals MIT and Harvard, Baltimore said he was acting in the interests of science. Lander's proposed genome institute offered an unusual opportunity for research, he said, one that could be realized only with the resources of MIT, where Baltimore was for many years a tenured professor, and Harvard.

As a contributor to Caltech, Baltimore said, Broad has been extremely generous in the past and may be so again.

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