This Funder Aims to Tap the Power of "Synergy" to Accelerate IBD Research

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation of Oakland, California has been a pretty modest funder for most of its seven-year history. Lately, though, it’s been stepping up its game in a big way. Earlier this year, it announced the establishment of a completely new grant under its inflammatory bowel disease grant program, and now it’s announcing the distribution of $2.2 million through this new program and its two existing ones.

These are big doings for a foundation that used to have an annual giving level of about $3 million across all its programs.

Related: Where's the Rainin Foundation Going with its Work on Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The new award is called the Synergy Award. The awards recognize researchers with slightly different areas of expertise collaborating in the name of progress. "Given the complexity of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, these interdisciplinary projects may dramatically accelerate the pace of IBD research," said Averil Ma, Chair of the Rainin Foundation's Scientific Advisory Board. "The selected projects reflect both the success and the promise of bringing together diverse investigators who share an interest in solving challenging problems in IBD."

I should pause to note that we're seeing this strategy a lot among health funders, who see dividends in pushing researchers in under-funded niches to pool their resources. This kind of strategy makes a lot of sense when they're working on something that not a lot of people die from, for which private money is therefore relatively scarce, or when the work is too risky for government funding eligibility. In these cases, researchers need to share tools and swap data, and try to crowdsource their way to breakthroughs with limited resources. That’s what this Synergy Award aims to encourage.

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s other awards, the Innovator Award and the Breakthrough Award, are specifically about providing researchers with the stability they need to get their new research projects off of training wheels—in other words, moving beyond proof-of-concept and into trials. Innovator awardees get a one-year, $100,000 grant, and are eligible to receive a Breakthrough Award after that term, if their work proves especially promising. Breakthrough Awards provide multi-year support of between $100-$150K.

"The Foundation supports projects at critical early stages that have the potential to change how we address IBD," said Jennifer Rainin, CEO of the Rainin Foundation. "The Foundation is confident that the projects we support will bring us closer to achieving our mission of finding a cure for the more than 5 million people who suffer from IBD."