UW News

April 24, 2003

Record $70 million gift boosts UW’s position as leader in genomics research

The UW today announced a major gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that enhances the University of Washington’s position as the emerging world leader in genomics research.

The $70 million gift is by far the largest single private donation ever to an institution of higher education in the Northwest. Most of the gift — $60 million — ensures construction of new, critically needed research space for the UW School of Medicine and its Department of Genome Sciences. The balance will be applied to collaborative global health programs at the UW related to genome sciences.

The Gates gift will enable the UW to construct a $150 million, 265,000 square-foot building at the southeast corner of Pacific Street and 15th Ave. NE in Seattle. The future building will be shared by the departments of Genome Sciences and Bioengineering.

Three of the key architects of the Human Genome Project are UW Genome Sciences faculty: Drs. Philip P. Green, Maynard V. Olson, and Robert H. Waterston. In recognition of their contributions to this effort, these faculty members were among the eight leading genome scientists worldwide to receive the highly prestigious Gairdner International Award in 2002. Waterston joined the UW faculty in January 2003 as professor and first chair of genome sciences. He has been hailed as a visionary in understanding the revolution that is taking place with the convergence of information technology and the biosciences.

“Advances in genomics hold great promise for improving health in the developing world. Now that the human genome has been fully sequenced, important work lies ahead in turning this achievement into improved health,” said William H. Gates III, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Melinda and I are pleased to help advance this important work and support the visionary genome sciences faculty at the University of Washington.”

Genome science seeks to address leading-edge questions in biology, medicine and global health by developing and applying genetic, genomic and computational approaches in the search for biomedical treatments and cures. These approaches build on the recently decoded genomic sequences for humans and other species.

“This gift reflects the common goal to improve global health through innovative science that exists between two great institutions,” said Dr. Lee L. Huntsman, interim UW president. “We’re confident that this gift will enable the University of Washington to achieve advances in biomedical research to address critical global health challenges, including breakthroughs in infectious diseases and new vaccine development.”

“These funds will be used to construct new research space that UW Medicine urgently needs at a time when the field of genomics is opening unparalleled new frontiers in medicine,” said Dr. Paul G. Ramsey, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the UW School of Medicine. “We are fortunate to have attracted a number of the world’s top genome scientists to the University of Washington. Now we will be able to give these exceptional individuals an environment that inspires and encourages the collaboration needed to fulfill genomics’ promise for improving global health.”

“The new building supported by today’s gift will seamlessly blend the four elements crucial to the future of genomics research,” Waterston explained. “These elements are computational biology, technology development, experimental genetics and human genetics. The UW building has been designed to encourage researchers to work collaboratively in ways that spur innovation and speed discoveries.

”I see this building as a creative focus and a catalyst for genome sciences research,” Waterston continued. “This building and other research space under development at the south end of Lake Union will allow us to lead this research and to successfully compete for future funding.

Waterston holds the William H. Gates III Chair in Biomedical Sciences, established in 1991 by a gift from the Microsoft Corporation founder. In addition to creating the endowed chair, this earlier $12 million gift created the Department of Molecular Biotechnology. The UW Department of Genome Sciences was formed in October 2001 by consolidating the departments of Molecular Biotechnology and Genetics. There are 28 faculty in the department, with 39 additional affiliate and adjunct faculty. More faculty are being recruited.

”Thanks in large measure to the tremendous intellectual capital already in place at the University of Washington, Seattle—and the Northwest—are well positioned for unparalleled world leadership in genome sciences,” said UW Regent Jeff Brotman, founder and chairman of Costco Wholesale Corporation. “This is a very exciting time for medicine, and today’s announcement underscores the faith the private sector has in the ability of the nation’s finest public research university to improve health. That’s what matters most to people in their everyday lives.

“I can’t stress enough the enormity of what is taking place in terms of its potential for transforming the economic future of the greater Seattle area,” Brotman added. “UW Medicine employs more than 14,000 people and tens of thousands of others can trace their livelihoods to the University of Washington’s programs in medical education, research and clinical care.”

The new building will house offices and laboratory facilities designed to serve the needs of a rapidly changing research discipline. The building will include a mix of biomedical research laboratories with associated support facilities.

Construction of the building is scheduled to begin in August and is expected to open in phases beginning in the fall of 2005. The building was designed by Anshen + Allen of Los Angeles. The general contractor and construction manager is Hoffman Construction.

Additional funding for the building includes $12 million from the federal government, $10 million from the Whitaker Foundation, and gifts from other private sources.