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Vol. LVIII, No. 22
November 03, 2006

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Gates Money a Boon
Foundation for NIH Marks 10th Year

On the front page...

This year, the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health marks its first decade as a nonprofit corporation called into existence by Congress to support NIH’s mission. With NIH goals as its reference points, the foundation fosters public-private partnerships that serve both sides of the hyphen: NIH, whose funds are appropriated by Congress, identifies where progress could be made with additional funding and FNIH brokers relationships with companies, academia and other philanthropies whose own interests match NIH needs.

“That’s where creativity comes into play,” says Amy McGuire, executive director of FNIH since 2001. “We think of novel ways to involve public-private partnerships and we avoid a formulaic approach to configuring them.”

FNIH currently manages 50 partnerships and is always searching for more. It has raised some $350 million to date and on Oct. 5 announced a major new project—the Biomarker Consortium—that will involve NIH, FDA and PhRMA.


FNIH board chairman Dr. Charles Sanders (l) spoke, along with NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, at the recent Biomarkers Consortium announcement at the National Press Club.
FNIH board chairman Dr. Charles Sanders (l) spoke, along with NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, at the recent Biomarkers Consortium announcement at the National Press Club.

It wasn’t always such a major player, though; only 5 years ago, it took in about $12 million per year. Then in 2003, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $200 million grant to FNIH—almost six times more than FNIH’s next-largest gift and the biggest grant announced by a private foundation that year. Nowadays, McGuire anticipates $70 million to $100 million in program revenues yearly and is collaborating with virtually all of NIH’s 27 institutes and centers on projects large and small.

“Since Amy took the leadership role at the foundation, I’ve seen the transformation. It now plays an important role in contributing to NIH’s mission to advance people’s health—here and around the world,” said NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni. “The foundation helps bring government and the private sector together toward a common goal.”

FNIH projects typically fall into one of three categories: research initiatives; fellowships and clinical training; and capital expenditures. By far the largest research initiative up to now is the Gates-funded Grand Challenges in Global Health (a smaller Gates gift will support an as-yet-unannounced study), which solicited goals from the world’s top scientists and has required that the foundation hire its own scientific staff to manage a portfolio of 20 grants. Another research project, GAIN (Genetic Association Information Network), unites NHGRI and several companies in an effort to unravel the genetic component of common diseases.

“Working with the Foundation for NIH has been an empowering experience,” said NHGRI director Dr. Francis Collins. “In particular, the recent initiation of the Genetic Association Information Network would simply not have been possible without them. This project brings together NIH and the private sector (Pfizer, Affymetrix and Abbott) to catalyze the discovery of genetic variants that contribute to common disease and to make this data immediately available to all qualified investigators. The dedication and creativity shown by Amy McGuire, David Wholley and many other FNIH staff in addressing the many complex details of this unprecedented effort have been truly impressive.”

The longest-lived beneficiary of FNIH is the Clinical Research Training Program, cosponsored since 1998 by Pfizer Inc., which has gone from training 9 fellows in 1997 to 30 fellows a year today. Some 160 physician-scientists have participated in the program, conducted by mentors in the Clinical Center.

Top Ten Contributors to FNIH

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation $203.0M
Pfizer $35.7M
Merck $22.7M
GlaxoSmithKline $22.2M
The Avon Foundation $9.4M
Novartis $8.3M
Mrs. Lily Safra and The Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation $4.9M
Bristol-Myers Squibb $4.5M
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation $4.0M
Eli Lilly & Company $3.9M

*Contributions and grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation accounted for about 61 percent of FNIH’s revenue in 2005.

The largest capital project so far is the Edmond J. Safra Family Lodge and surrounding Claudio and Evelyne Cohen Garden, which opened last year. So far, the lodge has hosted 20,855 family members and caregivers of adult patients. They come from all over the world.

Managing and operating this burgeoning enterprise is a staff of 34 employees, 30 of whom work directly for FNIH (there are also 3 contractors and one NIH detailee) and 10 of whom were hired just this past summer, mainly to work on several new research initiatives. FNIH now occupies space in two NIH facilities—the Natcher Bldg. and Bldg. 60 (the Cloister), which houses its executive offices.

FNIH is guided by a board of directors chaired by Dr. Charles Sanders, former chairman and CEO of Glaxo Inc. Previously he was general director of Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Apart from almost constant interaction, FNIH formally huddles twice a year with NIH leadership to discuss programs and priorities.

“The goals surface essentially from the NIH side,” said Charles Pucie, a former NCI public affairs staffer who is now communications director at FNIH. “We look to NIH’s priorities for scientific direction,” adds McGuire. “We are facilitators—private partners bring a lot to the table. We’re in a unique position to leverage the funding and expertise of partners and stakeholders.”

Both sides look for instances of scientific opportunity that would lag if not for private funding. Sometimes the money comes from industry, as in the Imaging Database Resources Initiative, a 2-year, $1.2 million demonstration project involving 8 of the biggest names in imaging hardware and augmenting NCI’s $7 million Lung Imaging Database Consortium. IDRI’s goal is to improve clinical management of lung cancer.

Other times another philanthropy is involved, as in the Grand Challenges, or the National Library of Medicine and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Partnership, which is training the next generation of experts in public health informatics (think SWAT-team epidemiologists who can track and perhaps help ameliorate an outbreak of bird flu) at four universities.

The foundation facilitates partnerships of all sizes and configurations. Some are large-scale programs such as the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, which involves NIA in conjunction with other federal agencies and private companies and organizations in a $60 million initiative to test whether serial magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, other biological markers, as well as clinical and neuropsychological assessment can be combined to measure the progression of mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer’s disease. There are myriad smaller efforts as well, some memorializing esteemed NIH scientists (the John LaMontagne Memorial Fund and the Norman P. Salzman Memorial Fund, for example). McGuire emphasizes that all gifts are needed and welcome, no matter the size, including CFC donations.

Biomarkers Consortium Launched, Oct. 5

FNIH, NIH, FDA and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America on Oct. 5 announced the launch of a public-private biomedical research partnership—the Biomarkers Consortium—to search for and validate new biological markers (biomarkers) to accelerate the delivery of successful new technologies, medicines and therapies for prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of disease.

“Rapid realization of the aims of the Biomarkers Consortium is beyond the capacity of any single sector of our nation’s health enterprise, much less the single-institution, or single-investigator, science research approach,” said Dr. Charles Sanders, chairman of the FNIH board and of the consortium’s executive committee. “This initiative is large-scale and complex. It requires the expertise of all stakeholders—government, industry, patient groups, academia and other private groups.”

Biomarkers are molecular, biological or physical characteristics that indicate a specific underlying physiologic state. Biomarker research already has identified indicators that have been helpful in prevention and treatment of disease. For example, blood pressure and cholesterol biomarkers have enabled diagnostics and therapies that have contributed to a 50 percent decrease in cardiovascular mortality in the U.S. over the last 30 years.

The consortium’s initial investigations will target lung cancer and lymphoma, with depression and diabetes as future projects. Three NIH institute directors sit on the consortium’s executive committee: NCI’s Dr. John Niederhuber, NIDCR’s Dr. Lawrence Tabak and NIMH’s Dr. Thomas Insel.

To date, $1.2 million has been committed by the consortium’s funding members, which include: the Alzheimer’s Association; AstraZeneca; the Biotechnology Industry Organization; Bristol-Myers Squibb; Glaxo-SmithKline; the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; Johnson & Johnson; Eli Lilly & Co.; Pfizer Inc.; the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; and F. Hoffmann-La Roche.

For all of its newfound heft, however, FNIH plans no formal program in honor of its 10th anniversary. “We are happy to help NIH mark its milestones, such as the 50th Anniversary of Brain Research or the The Helix and the Genome: 50 Years from Model to Medicine, but we will mark our 10th year by recognizing our partners and donors in a low-key way,” McGuire said.

Nonetheless, McGuire emphasizes that the efforts of a distinguished board of directors led by its hard-working chairman and a dedicated, talented staff, have been essential ingredients in the success of the foundation. “We could not achieve these results without the commitment of such exceptional people,” she added.

As FNIH begins its second decade, McGuire says, “We’ve built a structure that can support added staff for each new initiative. We have a scientific staff as well as grants management and project management staff that work directly with NIH staff and leadership. We hope to be part of many more groundbreaking partnerships that maximize each contributor’s impact and achieve each partner’s goals.” NIH Record Icon

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