Frontier Watch: Genomic Medicine Is Entrancing Funders, and in Different Ways

It's becoming clear that genomic medicine is among the big frontiers of medical research in the 21st century. Functionally, it has two key goals: First, to delve into the genetic roots of disorders as diverse as Tay-Sachs disease, autism, and IBD. Second, to use genetic information to custom-tailor treatments to a patient’s unique genetic makeup.

These two goals also mirror the motivations of many funders, some of whom are diving deep to unravel the puzzles of human disease and disorders; others of whom are laser-focused on delivering relief in the near-term through better treatment. And that explains why so many funders large and small are putting money into genomic medicine. 

As we've written before, for example, the Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation is working on that angle as applicable to glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), and Catherine Ivy says, optimistically, that she’s looking for the day when GBM signifies “genomics-based medicine” and not brain cancer.

But we've also written about a lot of other funders who are investing in this area. Below is a sampling of other funders applying genomic medicine to a wide array of health challenges.

Ernest Rady

The top San Diego philanthropist gave his eponymous Rady Children’s Hospital $120 million for a new center for pediatric genomics in August 2014. The center will be dedicated to looking at the genetic roots of specific birth defects that often significantly hinder or shorten children’s lives. Many children are born with mysterious, rare disorders no one can cure. Often, the condition produces moderate to severe symptoms—throwing up, for example—but no one can provide answers or treatments for the condition. In these situations, genomic medicine may be the only answer, which is why Rady wrote such a big check. (See IP's coverage here.)

Ted Stanley

In July 2014, the 82-year-old Giving Pledge signatory contributed $650 million to the Broad Institute, to examine the genetic basis of mental health and psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The gift is compelling because in a lot of ways it’s a first: No one’s really looked at the genetic roots of psychiatric diseases before in such a deep way. (See IP's coverage here.)

T. Denny Stanford

At the start of this year, the subprime credit card kind laid out $125 million for Sanford Health to establish Sanford Imagenetics, a unique program that aims to integrate genomic medicine into primary care for adults. One goal of the gift is the train medical practitioners and researchers in genomic medicine. (See IP's profile of Sanford here.)

Helmsley Charitable Trust

In July 2013, the Helmsley Charitable Trust contributed $42 million to the Salk Institute to found a center for genomic medicine. Genomic medicine seems to be an emerging pet interest for Helmsley, who, in addition to that monster Salk gift, is increasingly investing in research into the genetic basis of IBD, within its larger IBD grant program.

Duke Endowment

The Duke Endowment gave $2.75 million to the Greenwood Genetic Center in Greenwood, SC, in August 2014. This gift is broader, about treating genetic disorders and diseases as diverse as color blindness and cystic fibrosis, and more modest. (See IP's coverage here.) But Duke’s interest in genomic medicine stretches back to 1996, when it first contributed to the Greenwood Genetic Center, and as its prominence in the field rises it is attracting the attention of serious investors.