Although the Helmsley Charitable Trust is a relatively new player in the philanthropy game (it was founded in 2008), it hasn't wasted any time ratcheting up the dollars it ladles out to grantees. Last year, HCT dispensed $136 million in disease-related grants. Sure, some went to type 1 diabetes research and some went to studying cardiovascular disease. But scroll through the list of recent grant announcements, and what do you see coming up over and over again? IBD, IBD, IBD…
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is comprised of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, two potentially life-threatening diseases that are still poorly understood and underfunded in this country. Most recently, HCT handed out more than $5 million to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada, which is heavily invested in the Genetic, Environmental, Microbial Project. This project, as it name suggests, is exploring the genetic, environmental, and microbial factors that contribute to the onset of IBD disorders. It is undertaking a human trial in which some subjects will develop Crohn's disease over the course of the study, and their similarities and differences — both genetic and environmental — in relation to healthy patients will be studied in depth. "GEM is a landmark study that will change the way we view the causes and treatment of IBD," says the organization.
Another recent big award coming down from HCT went to Mount Sinai to further the work begun by the Sinai-Helmsley Alliance for Research Excellence (SHARE), which is collaboratively working on rooting out the genetic cause of IBD.
The fact that HCT makes big awards to big players is bad news for researchers at smaller institutions, since the philanthropy is clearly more interested in doling out its funds to the Big Boys. But don't despair entirely: HCT does make room in its roster for some of the little guys. A recent $195,000 grant to the Care-for-Rare Foundation drives home that point. If you want HCT's money, you don't necessarily have to be big (although that helps). You just have to be solid: stable, mainstream, full of momentum, and ready to make a breakthrough. HCT isn't interested in pursuing therapies that might pan out over time. Especially as a young organization, it wants payback quickly and efficiently, so you better have your ducks in a row if you apply.