Los Angeles philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad announced Thursday that they are donating $400 million, their biggest gift ever, to a Massachusetts biomedical research institute that is a joint enterprise of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Broads already had given $200 million to the Cambridge-based Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT since its launch four years ago. Their cumulative $600 million was described by institute officials as the largest gift to support biomedical research at any university worldwide.
Eli Broad, who earned billions from his home building and financial services businesses, said in a telephone interview Thursday from Cambridge that his family foundation is supporting the institute because of its innovative and interdisciplinary research on causes and possible cures of cancer, diabetes, schizophrenia and other diseases.
"There is no question this is going to make a difference in the human condition and health in the world," Broad, 75, said of the research.
The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which has $2.6 billion in assets, has helped establish many big projects in education, the arts and science in Los Angeles and across the country. A $60-million grant founded the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which opened this year, and $30 million went to a Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research on USC's Health Science Campus in Boyle Heights, which held its groundbreaking Wednesday.
The $400 million to establish an endowment at the Cambridge-based institute, Broad said, "is the most cutting-edge and biggest thing our family and foundation has done to date. It is by far." The institute, which receives large amounts of federal funding and has other private donors, hopes to boost the endowment to $1 billion through investments and other donations.
The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT has broken down walls between rival universities, hospitals and academic departments, officials said, to work on various aspects of genomics. Its 1,200-member staff is tackling topics such as the genetic risk factors for illnesses and trying to understand how cells generate and use energy and how that process goes awry in many diseases.
Broad made his announcement Thursday to a group that included Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust and MIT President Susan Hockfield, who all expressed their thanks.
The $400 million Broad donation is not the largest in worldwide academia but is among the top 10 such gifts, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. In 1999, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave $1 billion for minority student scholarships at many colleges, the Chronicle stated in a recent list.