Gates Foundation gives record $70 million for genomics research

Most of the $70 million Gates Foundation gift will fund the construction of a 265,000-square-foot research facility located at the southeast corner of NE Pacific Street and 15th Avenue NE. Photo courtesy Anshen + Allen Architects.

The University of Washington announced April 24 the largest gift in its 142-year history — $70 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to ensure construction of research space for the Department of Genome Sciences and to strengthen programs in global health.

The gift is the largest single private donation ever to an institution of higher education in the Pacific Northwest. Most of the gift — $60 million — will enable the UW to construct a $150 million, 265,000-square-foot building at the southeast corner of N.E. Pacific Street and 15th Ave. NE in Seattle. The future building will be shared by the departments of genome sciences and bioengineering.

The new building will house offices and laboratory facilities designed to serve the needs of a rapidly changing research discipline. The building will include a mix of biomedical research laboratories with associated support facilities.

Construction of the building is scheduled to begin in August and is expected to open in phases beginning in the fall of 2005.

The balance of the Gates Foundation gift will be applied to collaborative global health programs at the UW related to genome sciences.

Three of the key architects of the Human Genome Project are now at the UW: Philip Green, Maynard Olson and Robert Waterston. In recognition of their contributions to this effort, these faculty members were among the eight leading genome scientists worldwide to receive the highly prestigious Gairdner International Award in 2002.

Waterston joined the UW faculty in January 2003. He has been hailed as a visionary in understanding the revolution that is taking place with the convergence of information technology and the biosciences.

“Advances in genomics hold great promise for improving health in the developing world. Now that the human genome has been fully sequenced, important work lies ahead in turning this achievement into improved health,” said William H. Gates III, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Melinda and I are pleased to help advance this important work and support the visionary genome sciences faculty at the University of Washington.”

According to UW Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Connie Kravas, the Microsoft co-founder has given more than $151 million to the UW either individually or through the Gates Foundation.

Genome science seeks to address leading-edge questions in biology, medicine and global health in the search for biomedical treatments and cures. These approaches build on the recently decoded genomic sequences for humans and other species.

“This gift reflects the common goal to improve global health through innovative science that exists between two great institutions,” said Interim President Lee Huntsman. “We’re confident that this gift will enable the University of Washington to achieve advances in biomedical research to address critical global health challenges, including breakthroughs in infectious diseases and new vaccine development.”

“The new building supported by today’s gift will seamlessly blend the four elements crucial to the future of genomics research,” Waterston explained. “These elements are computational biology, technology development, experimental genetics and human genetics. The UW building has been designed to encourage researchers to work collaboratively in ways that spur innovation and speed discoveries.

“I see this building as a creative focus and a catalyst for genome sciences research,” Waterston continued. “This building and other research space under development at the south end of Lake Union will allow us to lead this research and to successfully compete for future funding.”

Waterston holds the William H. Gates III Chair in Biomedical Sciences, established in 1991 by a gift from the Microsoft Corporation founder. In addition to creating the endowed chair, this earlier $12 million gift created the Department of Molecular Biotechnology. The UW Department of Genome Sciences was formed in October 2001 by consolidating the departments of Molecular Biotechnology and Genetics. There are 28 faculty in the department, with 39 additional affiliate and adjunct faculty. More faculty are being recruited.

“Thanks in large measure to the tremendous intellectual capital already in place at the University of Washington, Seattle — and the Northwest — are well positioned for unparalleled world leadership in genome sciences,” said UW Regent Jeff Brotman, founder and chairman of Costco Wholesale Corporation.

“I can’t stress enough the enormity of what is taking place in terms of its potential for transforming the economic future of the greater Seattle area,” Brotman added. “UW Medicine employs more than 14,000 people and tens of thousands of others can trace their livelihoods to the University of Washington’s programs in medical education, research and clinical care.”

The new building will house offices and laboratory facilities designed to serve the needs of a rapidly changing research discipline. The building will include a mix of biomedical research laboratories with associated support facilities.

The building was designed by Anshen + Allen of Los Angeles. The general contractor and construction manager is Hoffman Construction. Additional funding for the building includes $12 million from the federal government, $10 million from the Whitaker Foundation, and gifts from other private sources.