Harvard Medical School-Blavatnik Family Foundation Stewardship Report: Transformational Initiatives at a Glance

The unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic have reinforced more starkly than ever before what is needed to repair and protect health.  And much of that attention has been focused on the brilliance of extraordinary scientists, the critical infrastructure that drives biomedical discovery, and the scientific training required to sustain and advance biomedical discovery and innovation.

The Blavatnik Family Foundation has long supported transformational scientific projects led by innovators and researchers at Harvard Medical School.

“Amid the crises of the ongoing pandemic, the Blavatnik Family Foundation’s transformational gifts have helped advance the work need for the improvement of human health and is building on the current ecosystem of discovery at HMS to drive forward our efforts on all the urgent needs for medical innovation,” said, George Q. Daley, dean of the faculty of medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS).

Highlights of the last year include the official launch of the Therapeutics Initiative, helmed by Mark Namchuk, PhD, executive director of therapeutics translation. Under his direction, the initiative has coalesced into three important themes: borderless science, translational research capability, and education to transform scientific discoveries into clinical therapies.

Though construction of the Blavatnik Harvard Life Lab at Longwood was delayed by the pandemic, important advances have been made designing the layout of the lab. It will house projects in various stages, from those that are relatively early in their translational journey through to early startups pre-exit.

There’s also the Ideation Hub (I-Hub), which is the component of the Therapeutics Initiative dedicated to community building, ideation, and education. It works closely with the HMS Translator – an initiative that provides the scientific and logistical support to allow projects to be identified and rapidly progressed toward a therapeutic – to build teams and generate ideas for translational research projects. In the I-Hub, newly formed Disease and Technology Groups (DTGs) are bringing together faculty with diverse skills and experience to tackle unmet medical needs or develop an enabling technology.

One of the first DTGs to be convened is focusing on COVID-19. In addition to aiming for rapid impact on the disease, one of the group’s most important goals is to prepare for another pandemic.

The inaugural Blavatnik Therapeutics Challenge Awards were launched in 2020 with grants to five principal investigators, including one at HMS and four in the affiliated hospitals. Now underway, these studies examine a diverse range of medical conditions including type 1 diabetes, neurodegenerative disease and cancer-related blood clots.