We don’t know what the next pandemic might look like, but we do know that investments in basic science, international collaboration, cross-sector partnerships, and community engagement are among the most important steps we can take to be prepared to respond rapidly and ensure that the benefits of scientific advancements are distributed equitably.
A recent $75 million grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) supports these critical endeavors through the creation of the SNF Institute for Global Infectious Disease Research at The Rockefeller University in New York City. Officially launched in January 2023, the new SNF Institute will speed up the timeline from scientific discovery to real-world solutions by supporting cross-disciplinary global collaborations, by closing the gap between work in the lab and practical application, and by strengthening the ties between the scientific community and the public.
The SNF Institute will be directed by Nobel laureate Charles Rice. It will be co-directed by immunologist Michel Nussenzweig and Barry Coller, physician-in-chief of The Rockefeller University Hospital.
Specifically, the Institute will expand opportunities for biomedical research in a way that stimulates collaboration among scientists from different disciplines and encourages young investigators to enter the field. It will also support clinical and translational studies conducted at The Rockefeller University Hospital, a critical step on the path of transforming scientific innovations into real-world remedies.
The SNF Institute will also regularly gather scientific experts from around the world, convene global conferences, and expand Rockefeller’s efforts to provide trusted information to the public and governments. Beyond preparedness for future pandemics, the work of the SNF Institute will also take aim at known and persistent pathogens around the world, such as malaria, tuberculosis, Zika, HIV, and others, as well as emerging threats gaining ground globally.
“When it comes to infectious diseases, there’s no such thing as a local challenge, and our response must also be a global one,” said SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos. “Our capacity to respond to established and emerging diseases must—like the threat from pathogens themselves—be fast, adaptive, and globally networked. The Rockefeller University’s deep history in basic science and translational biomedical science offers a phenomenal base of strength on which to build a collaborative global hub, one that can help narrow the gap between research and treatments benefiting real people.”
The work of the SNF Institute will build upon cross-laboratory partnerships within the university that grew in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The COVID pandemic has underscored the critical need for investment in infectious disease research to enable development of broadly effective and durable vaccines and therapeutics,” said Rockefeller President Richard P. Lifton. “The SNF Institute for Global Infectious Disease Research will accelerate innovation and provide scientific education and public awareness to the global community.”
“Emerging pathogens will keep coming in the future, and we need coordinated, intensive research in order to be prepared,” said Institute director Charles Rice. “The new institute will provide us with the means to encourage global collaborations, and a capability to support everything from basic infectious disease research to clinical development.”
The Foundation’s support for the creation of the Institute is part of its ongoing $750 million-plus global Health Initiative, SNF’s largest-ever grant initiative. The SNF Health Initiative includes the design, construction and outfitting of three new hospitals in Greece, the procurement of critical equipment such as air ambulances, training programs that empower health care providers to hone their skills, efforts to expand access to quality mental health care such as the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Initiative in Greece, and collaborations with institutions like Columbia University and the National Children’s Alliance in the United States, Sant Joan de Déu Barcelona Children’s Hospital, the King Hussein Cancer Foundation and Center in Jordan, and Yorkshire Cancer Research in the United Kingdom.
Rockefeller, whose long history includes important contributions to the treatment of meningitis, sleeping sickness, yellow fever, influenza, HIV, hepatitis C, and more, as well as to our understanding of the nature of viruses, prioritizes basic research as a way of getting ahead of the curve on existing and future health challenges.
This new grant builds on a long partnership between SNF and Rockefeller with roots in the fifty-plus-year friendship of Stavros Niarchos and David Rockefeller. Early in the pandemic, in April 2020, SNF made a $3 million grant as part of its $100 million global COVID-19 relief initiative to support research related to COVID-19 at the university. In 2019, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation – David Rockefeller (SNF-DR) River Campus was inaugurated with $75 million from each of the eponymous donors, adding two acres of cutting-edge laboratory and community space to the university, expanding its capacity for collaborative, cross-disciplinary research.