The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard announced Thursday the launch of the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Center, which will aim to promote human health by integrating machine learning and the life sciences.
Funded by a $150 million endowment gift from former Google CEO Eric E. Schmidt and his wife, businesswoman Wendy Schmidt, the Schmidt Center will bring together academic and industrial professionals from around the world to conduct interdisciplinary research in data science and biology.
The Schmidts’ gift will coincide with an additional $150 million contribution from the Broad Foundation to the Broad Institute’s general endowment. Eric Schmidt, who left Google in 2020 after 19 years and has an estimated net worth of roughly $19 billion, serves on the Broad Institute’s board of directors.
The center will collaborate with researchers from MIT, Harvard, and the Harvard teaching hospitals, in addtion to global companies, including Google Research and Microsoft.
“It’s a transformational moment for both medicine and biology,” said Anthony A. Philippakis, co-director of the newly formed center.
Caroline Uhler, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and fellow co-director of the new center, said the Schmidt Center’s creation is inspired by recent revolutions in data science and biology: the growth of data technologies like cloud computing and machine learning, and advances in genome sequencing.
Philippakis said he hopes efforts at the Schmidt Center will promote the transfer of ideas between biology and machine learning — particularly in the less-developed pipeline from life sciences to machine learning.
“The real success of the new center will be marked not by bringing ideas of machine learning into biology — that’s very much already happening and will happen with or without the Schmidt Center — but if we can see that the life sciences actually drives research in machine learning,” he said.
Puneet Batra ’98, who leads the Machine Learning for Health group at the Broad Institute, said the Schmidt Center’s founding comes at an “exceptional moment” for both biology and machine learning.
“What we’re already seeing is that this is attracting not just a lot of attention from machine learning people who usually might not think about biology, but it’s also attracting a lot of attention from the folks at, say, Longwood and Harvard Medical School,” Batra said. “They’re excited about the possibility of machine learning transforming their own fields, and so everybody is just now starting to take a look and define what problems could really be tackled.”
According to Uhler, the Broad Institute is “uniquely fertile ground” for the interdisciplinary collaboration the Schmidt Center aims to promote because it already has a strongly-connected network of biologists, biotechnologists, and computational scientists.
Aviv Regev — head of Genentech research and early development and former Chair of the Faculty and first recruited core member at the Broad Institute — wrote in an emailed statement that the Broad powers new advances by bridging academia and industry.
“During my time at the Broad, I helped to lay the foundation for the Schmidt Center,” she wrote. “I’m now at Genentech, and we look forward to collaborating with the Schmidt Center on research at the interface of the life sciences and computer science, including activities such as talent exchanges via internship programs and participation in public scientific seminars.”
The Schmidt Center will collaborate with researchers at Mayo Clinic, Geisinger Health System, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Google Research, and Microsoft, among numerous others. Establishing connections between the new center and industry is integral for the development of key health interventions, per Philippakis.
“We really don’t want this to be just about papers in journals, but actually see the ideas and insights turned into things that are new therapies or better ways of caring for patients,” Philippakis said. “And that impact often requires interactions with industry.”
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