Revolutionary biomedical research center will be a “Field of Dreams” for breakthrough discoveries and new therapies
The Michelson Medical Research Foundation, led by Dr. Gary K. Michelson, is a founding partner of the new California Institute for Immunology and Immunotherapy (CIII).
CIII’s future home in West Los Angeles was announced on January 3, 2024, by California Governor Gavin Newsom, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, University of California President Michael Drake, and other leaders at the new UCLA Research Park, which is being built on the site of the former Westside Pavilion, two miles east of the UCLA Medical Center.
The acquisition of the former shopping center, which will be transformed into the 500,000 square foot Institute, was made possible through a $500 million public investment, approved in the 2022 and 2023 state budgets proposed by Governor Newsom and passed by the California State Legislature, with support from the Michelson Center for Public Policy and other partners.
Michelson and the founding directors, including Dr. Arie Belldegrun, Dr. Eric Esrailian, Meyer Luskin, Michael Milken, and Sean Parker, are together making a significant philanthropic commitment to fund the institute, which will be announced in coming months.
This institute will be a “Field of Dreams” for biomedical research that will revolutionize human health, prevent and cure disease, and be a catalyst for economic growth and innovation akin to how Silicon Valley spurred breakthroughs that launched several of the biggest companies in the world today.
Plans for CIII began in 2017 with discussions between Michelson and other founding directors who were intent on creating a new, independent, multidisciplinary research enterprise to decode the human immune system and harness the power of immunotherapies to treat a myriad of conditions. Immunology, Michelson says, “is the mediator of just about all human disease, whether we’re talking about cancer or heart disease or Alzheimer’s disease.”
“The purpose of this institute is to be an invention factory,” he adds. He envisions a place where medical researchers from around California and the world can collaborate and create an ecosystem that will spawn the next generation of leading biotechnology companies. “We’re going to design technologies that have value and will bring revenues back to the institution that continues their research,” he explains.
When CIII opens, it will operate as a nonprofit using a combination of public and private funds. The institute aspires to attract scientists working in immunology and immunotherapy worldwide, who will collaborate with researchers at UCLA and institutions across the State of California. It will be “an agile, bench-to-bedside, investigator-centered environment of networked research laboratories, combining different sciences and disciplines with medicine and clinical research to develop targeted immunotherapies.”
Interdisciplinary collaboration is one of Michelson’s main goals for the institute. In a May 2023 podcast with Science, Michelson said that the hypercompetitive nature of federal grant applications needlessly pits every scientist against their peers. “We need to de-silo these brilliant people from all these different areas and have them live and work together on a common project,” he said. “We need to do something that’s never been done.”
CIII plans to house at least 500 scientists working on research topics including cancer, autoimmune and neurological disorders, cardiovascular diseases, the microbiome, and vaccine development.
The new UCLA Research Park will also host UCLA’s Center for Quantum Science and Engineering, which is developing quantum computing technology to speed computation, and may house more research institutions in the future. The combination of centers, Michelson says, “holds immense potential to revolutionize how we treat diseases and solve global climate challenges.”
The new institute builds on Michelson’s vision for convergent research. In 2014, he gifted $50 million to the University of Southern California to build the largest academic building on its campus. Today, the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience brings together leaders from numerous scientific and engineering fields to develop medical breakthroughs such as liquid biopsies for cancer detection and the first atomic resolution structure of the human body.
MMRF was created in 1995 to support researchers as they translate ideas into therapies that make an impact through programmatic support, research prizes, and strategic investments. With over $200 million designated to forward-thinking medical research, MMRF funding has contributed to the fight against infectious and degenerative diseases, advanced new surgical technologies, promoted the ethical treatment of animals in medicine, and much more. The Michelson Medical Research Foundation is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network.
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