The Open Philanthropy Project (Open Phil), a limited liability corporation funded largely by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife, Cari Tuna, has announced grants totaling $10.8 million in support of high-risk medical research.
Launched in 2011 as a partnership between Good Ventures, the couple's foundation, and the charity evaluator GiveWell, Open Phil was spun off as an independent organization in June 2017. In its latest funding round, the organization asked scientists whose grant applications had been rejected by a National Institutes of Health competition for high-risk, high-reward research to resubmit their proposals and, out of about a hundred and twenty projects, awarded $10.8 million to four teams. The grants include $6.4 million to Arizona State University to test a cancer vaccine for middle-aged pet dogs; $2.05 million to the University of Notre Dame in support of its efforts to develop an instrument that uses a sub-nanometer-diameter pore ("sub-nanopore") to read the amino acid sequence of whole protein molecules; $1.5 million to Rockefeller University to explore a newly discovered mechanism in the life cycle of the yellow fever virus and determine whether the mechanism also occurs in other host-virus interactions; and $825,000 to the University of California, San Francisco in support of efforts to develop a regenerative surgery method for human livers.
"We are sympathetic to the idea that high-risk, high-reward research is underfunded and therefore found it plausible that this strategy would yield proposals we would be excited to fund," Open Phil scientific advisor Heather Youngs wrote in a blog post.
While the organization has kept a relatively low profile, it increased its grantmaking to $200 million in 2017 and, according to scientific advisor Chris Somerville, will increase that amount by several multiples over the coming years. Indeed, given that it awarded about $40 million in support of scientific research in 2017, the organization could soon rival, in both size and ambition, better-known philanthropic vehicles such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, whose Chan Zuckerberg Biohub — launched with $600 million from CZI — awarded grants totaling $50 million in February.
Katherina Rosqueta, founding executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, told Nature that Open Phil's efforts to share its extensive research and explanations for each grant stand out among private funders. "They have a highly analytical view," said Rosqueta. "They have an appetite and skill in conducting research and sourcing information, and they're willing to do that in a public and transparent way."