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August 11, 2014

Opinion: Philanthropy Plays Important Part in Medical Advances

Wealthy donors willing to place large and risky bets on biomedical research complement rather than supplant government investment in science, the leaders of one major research center write in The Wall Street Journal column.

The column by Eric S. Lander and Louis V. Gerstner Jr., president and board chairman, respectively, of the Broad Institute, pivots on businessman Ted Stanley's $650-million gift to the Cambridge, Mass., center last month to spur the study of genetic triggers of mental illness and pursue effective treatments.

Concern that such gifts ''privatize' research" in favor of rich donors' interests is understandable but "misplaced," Mr. Lander and Mr. Gerstner write.

Government and philanthropy "play crucial and complementary roles," they say, with public investment driving long-term projects and progress while entrepreneurs "are better suited for big bets on bold ideas and personal hunches. Private funding lets creative scientists pursue projects that their peers might view as too risky."