Only with structured, stable funding can scientists see their work progress from initial hunch to new technology. Rockefeller’s approach to funding is designed to direct dollars to the projects with the greatest potential.
Science by its very nature is a costly enterprise. To make progress, scientists must ask questions to which they don’t know the answers. Then, to answer those questions, they must dedicate considerable time, creativity, determination—and money.
Funding for science comes from many sources. Grants—especially from the federal government—play an important role in funding the work that takes place at Rockefeller, but it’s not enough. To tackle especially risky projects and to explore unexpected results, additional funding mechanisms are needed.
At Rockefeller, every faculty member receives an annual allocation from the university’s research budget, an unrestricted grant that the head of laboratory can use in whatever way he or she wishes. We also have money earmarked for work related to specific diseases, including cancer, digestive disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and immune disorders, and for specific types of research, such as clinical research. These funds derive from the university’s endowment and from generous gifts made by private foundations and individuals. Rockefeller’s stable base of support, backed by a $2 billion endowment and maintained by our exceptional group of committed donors, makes it possible to do research that might never occur elsewhere.
Over the past few years, we have launched several innovative funding initiatives designed to encourage high-risk research and fill in the gaps left by traditional sources of revenue.
The Robertson Therapeutic Development Fund, established in 2014 with a gift from Julian H. Robertson Jr.’s Robertson Foundation, is dedicated to developing basic research discoveries into new medical therapies. Of the thousands of clinically promising innovations scientists come up with each year, the vast majority never advance beyond the lab. The Robertson Fund provides grants of $10,000 to $1 million or more to support medically significant research that has evolved beyond the basic research stage, but has not yet amassed sufficient data to attract industrial or venture capital.
Projects with pharmaceutical potential can also advance in the Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute, a joint initiative of Rockefeller, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Weill Cornell Medicine. Staffed with experts in drug discovery from the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, the institute has independent funding to develop compounds and conduct “proof of concept” studies in order to demonstrate that targeting a specific biologic pathway can favorably alter the course of a disease.
Initiatives that support specific research areas play a critical role at Rockefeller, funding exploratory work and encouraging collaborations between labs working on similar problems. The Kavli Neural Systems Institute at Rockefeller, established with support of the Kavli Foundation, is a $20 million effort to promote interdisciplinary research and to tackle the biggest questions in neuroscience through high-risk, high-reward projects and the development of new research technologies.