News and Publications
The Skaggs Institute For Chemical Biology
Scientific Report 1998-1999
Richard A. Lerner, M.D.
Private philanthropy continues to have a central role in defining the shape and character of The Scripps Research Institute as well as other major research universities throughout the United States. As a nation, we can take pride in our unparalleled record of generosity. In 1998, individual donors contributed almost $135 billion, and between 1996 and 1998, total giving increased by more than $41 billion.
In the biomedical sciences, private contributions are particularly important to fields of study that thrive on bold new ideas and strategies. Funding new opportunities in emerging fields--including genomics, interfaces between disciplines, neurosciences, and translational research--is an important way in which private philanthropy can increase its impact. In addition, providing funding for young scientists at the beginning of their careers can have high payoffs and far-reaching implications.
This outpouring of generosity and interest on the part of the American public in investing in biomedical research comes at a uniquely opportune time in the history of scientific discovery. Today, scientists in large numbers around the globe are in the midst of a new and exciting process of charting the innermost regions of the human body, the most complex and inherently unknowable region in the universe. Scientists at TSRI will build on their prodigious accomplishments in molecular biology, cell biology, structural biology, computational chemistry, and bioorganic chemistry to exploit the discoveries from biology's most important and ambitious effort: the Human Genome Project. All human genes are expected to be deciphered in the next several years. With the language of the genome as a common currency, the science of biology will flourish as never before.
Positioning themselves for the time in which the entire DNA sequence will be determined, scientists at TSRI will help bridge the gap between known DNA sequences and the mechanisms that underlie disease by determining the function of gene products. As much as is already known, we are in the very early stages of genomics research. Here, we will expand on the body of knowledge developed in our laboratories to bring resources to bear on these disciplines of the "postgenomic" world.
Forging new areas of research, creating new opportunities for collaboration, takes courage, the spirit of innovation, and funding. The work is often long-term and unpredictable. The riskier the venture, the more unlikely the project will be funded by the federal government, making the role of private philanthropy even more important.
At TSRI, we are indeed fortunate to count a number of remarkable philanthropists as true partners in the scientific endeavor. The effects of the extraordinary generosity of the Skaggs family in establishing The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology have already been felt in a significant way throughout the institution. With a full complement of 25 principal investigators, the Skaggs Institute supports research in 5 departments; their specific areas of concentrated effort and broad expertise include nucleic acid dynamics, protein structure, antibody catalysis, and organic synthesis. Although the ultimate goals for research at the interface of chemistry and biology are cures for diseases and the improvement of human health, many of the scientists' efforts are focused on basic science, providing scientific underpinnings for the next generation of molecules targeted against disease. A newer initiative made possible by the Skaggs family will more closely integrate clinical and basic research within the Scripps organization. The Skaggs Clinical Scholars Program has already begun to refocus basic research discoveries on human conditions and to instill a new sense of camaraderie between clinicians and basic researchers in the shared task of applying research to alleviate human disease. An initial group of Skaggs Scholars has been selected, and the work has begun in earnest.
Planning also continues for TSRI's new Institute for Childhood and Neglected Diseases, with the recent purchase of a 53,000-square-foot facility on a 4.5-acre parcel on the east side of North Torrey Pines Road. The unusual lead gift for this new effort--a collection of 26 exceptional automobiles--was contributed by San Diego Padres owner and businessman John Moores and his wife, Becky. A subsequent gift, a collection of important U.S. coins donated by the Moores, was recently auctioned, and the proceeds will fund the new initiative. The Institute for Childhood and Neglected Diseases will build on the strength that TSRI has achieved at the nexus of biology and chemistry through the Skaggs Institute to apply the new molecular understanding of biology to address, reduce, and treat recalcitrant illnesses in 2 major categories: childhood diseases and neglected diseases that affect populations primarily in developing countries.
A $10 million commitment from Helen L. Dorris of San Diego, founder of the Harold L. Dorris Neurosciences Foundation, has enabled TSRI to establish the Harold L. Dorris Neurological Research Center. The largest contribution that TSRI has received for furthering research in the neurosciences will help to foster rapid advances in the fundamental understanding of the brain. Under the leadership of the Center's recently appointed director, Tamas Bartfai, Ph.D., former head of CNS research at Hoffmann-La Roche, Basel, Switzerland, the Center will bring a dedicated effort to providing education and conducting research on neurologic disorders, including schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease, and to advancing knowledge of the how the brain ages.
Sustaining the progress of medical research is an enterprise that depends on a productive and collaborative partnership between scientific research organizations, the federal government, and private philanthropy. We as an institution are particularly grateful to those individuals who understand in a deep and profound way the difference one person can make in the life of an organization, and we stand in awe of the dedication and generosity of such individuals.