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Protein design named an Audacious project

SEATTLE, April 17, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- The Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine in Seattle has received a commitment of an initial $45 million in funding through The Audacious Project, a philanthropic collaborative that surfaces and funds critical projects with the potential to create massive global change.

"This is simply wonderful, and it comes at the best possible time," said David Baker. He is the institute's director, a UW School of Medicine professor of biochemistry, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. He also holds the Henrietta and Aubrey Davis Endowed Professorship in Biochemistry.

"As we get better and better at designing proteins to perform specific tasks," said Baker, "it has become possible to have bold new approaches to solving some of the most vexing problems in medicine today."

The institute will use The Audacious Project funds to pursue the computational design of:

  • A universal flu vaccine capable of providing lifetime immunization
  • New drug candidates with enhanced abilities to enter the brain
  • Advanced protein containers for targeted gene delivery (including the delivery of RNA into cells)
  • Smart proteins capable of identifying cancerous or otherwise unhealthy cells
  • Self-assembling protein nanomaterials for use in solar energy and nanofabrication

The institute will expand its team of engineers and scientists who will work together to advance their best-in-class Rosetta protein design software.  It will also add three new tenure-track professors, five acting instructors, and will support additional postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and staff scientists from around the world. The funding will also support investments in equipment, supplies, and laboratory space needed to design, build, and characterize millions of synthetic proteins.

Support leveraged via The Audacious Project was made possible through the generosity of Laura and John Arnold, Steve and Genevieve Jurvetson, Chris Larsen and Lyna Lam, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, Miguel McKelvey, the Clara Wu and Joe Tsai Foundation, Rosamund Zander and Hansjörg Wyss for the Wyss Foundation, and several anonymous donors. The UW School of Medicine hopes these funds will spur more contributions to the Institute for Protein Design.

Baker said the goal of the initiative is to create the Bell Labs of protein design, referring to the enormous productivity and invention of Bell Telephone Laboratories. There, scientists and engineers invented such technologies as the transistor and the laser, as well as information theory, which underpins the digital age. "We hope to attract some of the best and brightest from around the world to work on what we think is going to be a protein design revolution," Baker said.

"We believe that protein-based technologies will play an increasingly transformative role in this space," said Neil King, an assistant professor of biochemistry at the UW School of Medicine, who leads the institute's vaccine design efforts. "The Audacious Project will help us realize that vision in a way that simply wouldn't be possible through traditional grant-based funding."

"We created The Audacious Project to give lift-off to some of the world's most transformative projects — the ones with the potential to revolutionize entire fields," said Anna Verghese, executive director of The Audacious Project. "The Institute for Protein Design has been a long-standing pioneer in computational protein design. Now, with a solid blueprint in place and support through The Audacious Project, the Institute for Protein Design will venture to accelerate the pace of discovery, disseminate new protein technology, and fundamentally change how drugs, vaccines, fuels, and new materials are made."

About the Audacious Project 

The Audacious Project was launched in April 2018, with a mission to foster "collaborative philanthropy for bold ideas." Housed at TED (the nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading) and operated with support from The Bridgespan Group (a leading social impact advisor to nonprofits and NGOs, philanthropists and investors), The Audacious Project brings together some of the most respected organizations and individuals in philanthropy—the Skoll Foundation, Virgin Unite, Dalio Foundation and more. The Audacious Project surfaces and funds critical projects with the potential to create global change. By removing barriers associated with funding, The Audacious Project empowers social entrepreneurs to dream boldly and take on the world's biggest and most urgent challenges.

The 2019 projects include: Center for Policing Equity, Educate Girls, Institute for Protein Design at the UW School of Medicine, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the END Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Thorn and Waterford UPSTART. Learn more or support an existing project at AudaciousProject.org.

About the Institute for Protein Design 

Media Contacts:
Leila Gray, UW Medicine, leilag@uw.edu, 206.685.0381
Susan Gregg, UW Medicine, sghanson@uw.edu, 206.390.3226

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SOURCE UW Medicine