Industry-Sponsored Research Week

MIT lands $28M gift from Broadcom CEO for brain disorder research

By David Schwartz
Published: September 22nd, 2020

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology McGovern Institute for Brain Research announced a $28M gift from Broadcom CEO Hock Tan and retired investment banker and philanthropist Lisa Yang. The funds will establish a new center to accelerate the development of novel therapies and technologies, including CRISPR and other gene editing tools, to treat autism and a range of other brain disorders.

The Yang-Tan Center for Molecular Therapeutics in Neuroscience is just the latest donation in the couple’s targeted philanthropy strategy to fund “cutting edge research in areas that traditional funders wouldn’t fund,” says Yang. Their total donations to MIT now surpass $72 million, including the creation of the Tan-Yang Center for Autism Research in 2017.

Their research focus is personal. As the parents of adult children on the autism spectrum, Tan and Yang have donated tens of millions of dollars to fund basic research in a quest to better understand the genetic underpinnings of the disorder. Tan, president of and CEO of the Broadcom since 2006, graduated from MIT in 1975 with both a bachelor’s and master’s of engineering. 

More than one million people in the U.S. are diagnosed each year with a complex brain disorder, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and depression. The goal of the center is to have one therapeutic in clinical trials by 2025. 

The center’s strategy, says Yang, is to move beyond autism and focus on a tools-based approach, with applications for a broader number of disorders. The new center will fund a range of research, including DNA, RNA and neuron-based tools and treatments for these conditions.

“Hopefully, we’ll generate a lot of excitement in people stepping up, whether for-profit or nonprofit, to just advance the field and coming up with solutions for brain disorders,” says Yang.

One approach will be identifying genes of large effect, meaning those that cause the most severe loss of function, such as the SHANK3 gene for autism, which Guoping Feng, associate director of the McGovern Institute, and colleagues are studying in macaque monkey models. The mutation is introduced via the gene editing technology Crispr-Cas9 pioneered by McGovern Investigator Feng Zhang. The new center will not only focus on genes, but also targeting neurons. The hope is that “we can identify common pathways, either a common molecular pathway that’s a chokepoint for a therapy or a common group of neurons or neural systems,” says Robert DeSimone, director of the McGovern Institute.

The gift is part of a broader push by Tan and Yang to foster collaboration in the flourishing research, VC, and biotech ecosystem in the Boston area. They also gifted $20 million to Harvard Medical School in 2019 to establish the Tan-Yang Center for Autism Research, a sister center to the one at MIT. “By pulling together a critical mass of resources, we’re hoping it will catalyze a lot more work in this area,” says Tan. 

Source: Forbes

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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