Boston University is launching something akin to a venture fund to jump-start more collaborative life sciences research on campus, the university will announce Thursday.
Using most of a $115 million donation from Rajen Kilachand, a Dubai businessman and BU graduate, the school will create an endowment that finances early research by its faculty and students into life sciences and engineering.
The Kilachand gift is the school’s largest and could provide funding for early-stage research on topics related to memory or tissue engineering.
By funding the research internally, BU will be able to give its faculty more time to test their ideas and take more chances, said Robert A. Brown, the university’s president.
“It’s just a catalyst,” he said.
Like most universities, Boston University is heavily reliant on federal funding for scientific research and development. In fiscal year 2016, BU faculty received about $370 million in new research funding from the federal government. But universities across the country are competing for those funds, and research proposals need to be fairly well-developed to win, Brown said.
The $100 million endowment that BU plans to set up will give the university’s researchers a boost to help further develop their work to eventually compete for federal funding, he said.
BU will announce the endowment with the opening of the Rajen Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering, a nine-story, $135 million facility that houses the school’s life scientists, engineers, and physicians and encourages them to collaborate. A portion of Kilachand’s gift, $15 million, will pay for the building’s construction costs.
The center brings together scientists who are working on issues such as climate change, how light can turn on nerve cells to treat Parkinson’s disease, and ways to engineer immune cells that can help boost the effectiveness of cancer treatments.
The sharing of resources and expertise across different fields will be more common at university research settings, Kilachand said in a statement. “I’m convinced that this research center is going to be the front-runner,” he said.
Kilachand earned a master’s degree from BU’s business school in 1974 and is a member of the university Board of Trustees. He is chairman of Dodsal Group, a multibillion-dollar global company involved in construction, engineering, and oil and natural gas exploration. Kilachand has already pledged or given BU $35 million for other projects on the campus.
Universities across the country are increasingly financing their own research and development, as money from federal and state sources has remained essentially flat, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In 2015, the government spent nearly $42 billion on research, down slightly from the previous year and up by about 5 percent from a decade before.
Meanwhile, universities poured nearly $16 billion into science and engineering research and development, up more than 50 percent from $10 billion in 2005, according to the association.
University resources are primarily directed at overhead costs for facilities and equipment, which are capped by federal agencies, and as seed money for new research, said Joanne Carney, director of the office of government relations at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
“It gives them a lot more flexibility to be strategic in their own investments, where the government wouldn’t have sufficient funds,” Carney said.
Kilachand’s donation will fund an endowment that’s likely to have restrictions on what the money can be spent on, Carney said. The university is still working out the details but hopes to give up to $5 million annually to researchers, with the first round of funding occurring sometime next year, Brown said.
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