SpaceX and Tesla Motors co-founder and CEO Elon Musk has committed $5 million in support of research on the fundamental mechanisms of the novel coronavirus and two other diseases, the Boston Business Journal reports.
Awarded through the Musk Foundation, grants of $2.5 million will support studies by Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a member of the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT, and Harvard University, and Galit Alter, a professor of medicine at the Ragon Institute. The two collaborated on a coronavirus vaccine with Johnson & Johnson that is in late-stage clinical trials, and Alter worked with SpaceX to develop screening tests for COVID-19 antibodies. With the goal of devising new ways to engineer the immune system to prevent or cure COVID-19, another infectious disease, and a form of cancer, Barouch and Alter will use the funding to apply machine learning techniques to large datasets and analyze the diseases' molecular fingerprints.
"Applying these techniques to human disease will give us substantial insights into how disease processes work, how immune response works, and how we can treat and cure diseases," Barouch told the Boston Business Journal.
Although Musk, who confirmed last month that he had contracted the virus in November, had previously expressed skepticism about the accuracy of COVID-19 tests and denounced as "fascist" shelter-in-place orders that affected his Tesla plant, Barouch told the Boston Globe that he "has always been very open to the emerging science."
"The big thing we saw that changed the game for vaccine development and biological innovation for this pandemic has been this huge influx of funding that helped do stuff super fast," Alter told the Boston Business Journal. "What we're hoping to do is use this funding from the Musk Foundation to prove that the same kind of infusion of money into three disease areas could move the science faster than we could ever expect traditional funding mechanisms to push."
(Image credit: World Health Organizations)