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$20 million Coulter endowment to boost bioengineering start-ups

"This is more like business."

That's what Russ Altman, MD, PhD, chair of bioengineering, said about a new endowment that was announced today. The Wallace H. Coulter Foundation gave $10 million - with Stanford then matching the gift - to create an endowment that would help translate ideas that address unmet medical needs into treatments and devices that improve human health. The program will provide seed funding for bioengineering research projects, with the goal of launching start-ups or finding corporate partners to produce and distribute the fruits of their research.

Altman explained how it differs from a grant from the National Institutes of Health:

"The projects have quarterly milestones and can be killed by the oversight committee if the milestones are not met. This is not how academic grants usually go. There is a very strong emphasis on keeping focused on what is needed for successful transfer to professional management via a start-up or a license to an existing company. Funding for this sort of work is hard to get from the NIH, so the existence of a fund in perpetuity to support this kind of work is incredibly valuable . . ."

A previous five-year grant of $5 million to Stanford's Department of Bioengineering from the Coulter Foundation made possible the development of a blood test that could be an alternative to amniocentesis, a new type of surgical dressing that aims to prevent scarring, a drug that may improve cognition for people with Down syndrome and an ultra-cheap ventilator for hospitals in developing nations that can't afford the current models. The foundation has recently established similar $20 million endowments at Duke University, the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan and Drexel University.

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