Is Collaboration the Key to Success? The Adelsons Sure Think So.

Want to make a big splash in the world of medical research? Just collaborate! That’s how the prevailing breezes are blowing these days in the health philanthropy world, as funder after funder announces a new collaborative this or interdisciplinary that.

Check the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, with its new program spanning the divide between biomedicine and physics. Or HHMI, with its proactive position of encouraging collaborative work. Collaboration is buzzy.

But Miriam and Sheldon Adelson are doing way more than just hopping on the "let’s all work together" bandwagon. Here’s how.

When the Adelsons started thinking about medical research, they began with a question: why do medical discoveries take so long? The best answer they could find was a lack of collaboration among scientists in the world of traditional grant-fed research.

That world, as they see it, is filled with researchers competing against each other for grants and keeping their breakthroughs under wraps for long periods to preserve a competitive edge. It's also short-term and disease-specific, when researchers should be pursuing systemic scientific breakthroughs that can cross boundaries. It’s chronically risk-averse and mired in bureaucratic hullabaloo.

It’s these problems that motivated the Adelsons to create a foundation with collaboration at its core, trailblazing a whole new kind of health-based grantmaking, a kind that uses the concept of collaborative research to drive progress forward.

Search the website for the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation (AMRF), and you’ll find “collaborate” or “collaborative” produces 19 hits: The concept is at the very core of their foundational mission, and they aren’t shy about letting you know.

Based in the Boston area, AMRF is funded by the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Charitable Trust to the tune of over $20 million a year, and it's currently operating programs in three areas: cancer research (with a big focus on melanoma), immunologic diseases (with a focus on inflammatory bowel disease), and neural repair and rehabilitation.

The neural repair and rehabilitation program was their first undertaking: an open acknowledgement that, perhaps especially in brain research, the answers aren’t found by sticking to compartmentalized disease-specific thinking.

“We encourage investigators to find common denominators across diseases in their genes, cells, molecules and pathways,” says AMRF. “Clinical scientists work closely with basic scientists to help focus their joint aims, milestones and best applications for therapies.” 

Conveniently, the AMRF is always open to emails outlining, in about 300 words, your work and how it would fit with one of their programs. It even welcomes suggestions for new programs. And given that Sheldon Adelson is worth $37 billion, there's no shortage of money that could fund such programs.

Read more here.