Billionaires Are Making an Impact on Life Sciences With Significant Donations

Pile of hundred dollar bills close up

Billionaires are certainly no stranger to investing in the life sciences. Individuals like Sean Parker, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have spent a considerable chunk of their money on goals of ushering in new treatments for a number of diseases.

While those three billionaires are household names and their forays into life science have been well documented here at BioSpace, there are others who have also used a portion of their wealth for the betterment of man. Earlier this week, Forbes reported that the estate of investor Richard Rainwater is funding a series of multimillion-dollar prizes to develop therapies that target degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. Rainwater, who died three years ago, had been diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), an uncommon brain disorder that affects movement, balance, speech, swallowing, vision, mood and behavior and thinking. Following his diagnosis in 2009, Rainwater formed the Tau Consortium to research the brain disease. Forbes reported that before his death in 2015, Rainwater wanted to use some charitable trust money for a series of prizes for therapeutic development. The first prize, the Rainwater Breakthrough Prize, is for research into PSP. Prize money will be doled out in increments of $2 million, $4 million and $10 million for PSP treatments approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Forbes said. Another $2 million prize will be awarded by the Rainwater Milestone Prize for Advances in Tauopathy Research for research into tau-related disease.

A third prize from the Rainwater estate will be a $250,000 annual award, given to a researcher or group “whose work is considered a significant contribution to understanding tau-related, neurodegenerative diseases,” Forbes reported.

To date, Forbes noted that Rainwater’s foundation has already provided about $100 million to helped fund eight clinical treatments and about 24 early-stage research projects through the Tau Consortium.

Another billionaire, Len Blavatnik, the 43rd-richest person in the world, awarded Harvard Medical School with $200 million Bloomberg reported that the money will “enable research, investments in data science and creation of subsidized lab space for biotech startups.” In a statement sent to Bloomberg, Blavatnik said in his business career, he has seen how “well-thought-through partnerships and synergies” can help drive business investments.

“Drawing on that experience, this gift is designed to encourage additional cross-disciplinary efforts throughout the Harvard life science community,” Blavatnik said in the statement.

At least some of Blavatnik’s funds are already spoken for, Bloomberg said. A portion of the money will be used for an imaging technique called Cryo-EM. This technique visualizes proteins as they carry out cellular processes, according to Bloomberg.

This gift to Harvard isn’t the first funding Blavatnik has made to advance scientific research. He gave $50 million to establish the Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator and the Blavatnik Fellowship in Life Science Entrepreneurship Program at Harvard Business School, according to the report. Additionally, he has made science-related pledges to Yale, Stanford, and Tel Aviv universities, Bloomberg reported.

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