Inspired by the long tradition of innovation at Yale University, particularly in the life sciences, The Blavatnik Family Foundation has donated $10 million to Yale University to promote and to accelerate the development, application, and commercialization of breakthrough research in the life sciences. The gift will help shorten the timeline between exciting discoveries in the sciences and their ultimate benefit to patients, a frequently frustrating aspect of the scientific process.
“Yale exemplifies the remarkable pace of growth and discovery in the life sciences,” said American industrialist and philanthropist Len Blavatnik, founder and chair of Access Industries and head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation. “The Blavatnik Fund for Innovation will help Yale quicken the discovery-to-market pipeline and to nurture future leaders in scientific entrepreneurism.”
This new fund will be overseen by the Office of Cooperative Research (OCR) under Managing Director Jon Soderstrom, Ph.D., the office most responsible for connecting Yale investigators with industry. Erika R. Smith, M.B.A., previously deputy director of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, is director of the fund. The Blavatnik Fund for Innovation will give investigators access to expertise and resources in key areas—such as prototype development or early-stage clinical trials—to help them demonstrate their cases to potential investors.
More than 60 investigators representing science disciplines across the university applied for the initial round of grants and related resources. In February, OCR identified 17 finalists, of whom 14 are affiliated with the medical school. Yale President Peter Salovey, Ph.D., will announce the winning proposals on May 10 during the closing ceremony of the Yale Innovation Summit, a day-long event for Yale innovators and investors.
“I am deeply grateful to the Blavatnik Family Foundation, and especially to Len Blavatnik, not only for this exceptional support, but also for our shared commitment to entrepreneurship as a way to serve some of society’s greatest unmet needs,” says Salovey. “The fund will foster the next generation of leadership in innovation and help to translate Yale discoveries into real-world applications that can improve people’s lives.”
The multi-year grant also establishes the Blavatnik Fellows Program, offering a select group of young professionals access to Yale researchers as well as inventors, venture capitalists, and business leaders. The fellows will aid the researchers with the technical and business skills needed to prepare discoveries for the marketplace as they prepare themselves to develop into the next generation of scientific entrepreneurs.
Soderstrom says the gift will provide a boost for research at Yale School of Medicine. “The Blavatnik fund will provide strategic and dedicated resources to Yale faculty members who are developing commercially relevant research,” Soderstrom says. “With this essential support, we will be able to transform new discoveries into marketable tools, treatments, drugs, and devices that have the potential to impact people’s lives tremendously.”
In an interview with Medicine@Yale weeks before her death in December, Carolyn W. Slayman, Ph.D., deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs, Sterling Professor of Genetics, and professor of cellular and molecular physiology, said there is no shortage of discoveries by School of Medicine scientists that are candidates for commercial success. But the marketplace may overlook some of them, she said, if investment funds are lacking.
“There is a fine line,” said Slayman, “between discoveries that instantly excite the pharmaceutical industry and others to which companies hesitate to commit. A bit more access to investment, such as the Blavatnik Fund now offers, can propel worthy discoveries from one side of that line to the other.” Slayman said the fund’s existence also gives investigators added incentive to do breakthrough work.
The Blavatnik Fund will be structured as a sustainable program, with a portion of revenues earned reinvested to support the next generation of projects.