Purpose

Washington Research Foundation strives to cultivate an ecosystem in Washington state where ideas that improve lives and advance technology can thrive. We strategically invest in one-off programs that will accelerate systemic changes that support our mission. These programs build a foundation to deliver longer term payoffs in innovation.

Funding for WRF’s strategic programs is by invitation only.

 

Current Funding

To honor the retirement of WRF’s CEO of 29 years, Ron Howell, the WRF Board established a special, one-time endowment to the University of Washington to support a cohort of early-career faculty in neuroscience and other STEM fields. The cohort will include faculty whose research and teaching exemplify a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

WRF is supporting Professor Princess Imoukhuede, Chair of the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Washington, to establish a fund that will encourage innovative projects with substantial technology translation potential.

WRF contributes to the Fred Hutch’s efforts to recognize outstanding postdoctoral fellows from across the U.S. who have achieved significant research excellence and have also demonstrated their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Awardees present at a symposium honoring Dr. Eddie Méndez, a physician-scientist at the Fred Hutch who tragically died in 2018.

The goal of the Research Exchange is to significantly increase the number of individuals who identify as underrepresented minorities in postdoctoral and entry-level academic and senior scientist positions at top-tier institutions across the country. Eligible candidates across partner institutions travel to visit a faculty lab outside their home institution to build a robust professional network and obtain mentoring that can contribute to future employment opportunities.

The Innovator Award Program provides seed funding to non-faculty researchers at ISB to work on novel research ideas with a translational potential. Special consideration is given to teams that include members from groups that have been shown to be underrepresented in health-related sciences.

Past Funding

Funds for Innovation

WRF’s Funds for Innovation awarded over $31 million in support of four major, interdisciplinary initiatives at the University of Washington: Institute for Protein Design, Clean Energy Institute, Institute for Neuroengineering (now called the Center for Neurotechnology) and the eScience Institute. The funding was to boost entrepreneurship and innovation in the fields of protein design, clean energy, neuroengineering and big data science. All four initiatives were able to use funding to meet their own specific needs, but a common feature of all programs was to support a cohort of independent postdoctoral Innovation Fellows and faculty cluster hires.

Impact

The Funds for Innovation have made an enormous impact on the innovation ecosystem in Washington state and have contributed to establishing a vibrant entrepreneurial culture. Numerous startup companies have spun out of these initiatives, including BlueDot Photonics, Cyrus Biotechnology, PvP Biologics, Membrion, Lyell Immunopharma and Icosavax. A total of 89 outstanding postdocs have been trained, many of whom have been the founders of startup companies or have joined these companies as key scientists. Numerous invention disclosures and patents were filed. Faculty such as Bing Brunton, Liangcai Gu, Hesam Jahanian, Sham Kakade, Neil King and Jun Liu have established thriving research programs and continue to generate breakthrough discoveries.

Heart Regeneration Program

WRF partnered with UW Medicine to support the Heart Regeneration Program at the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (ISCRM). The goal of the Heart Regeneration Program was to develop and test stem cell therapies for heart disease. The Heart Regeneration Program was commercialized in 2019 into the startup company, Sana Biotechnology, which was valued at over $6 billion shortly after its initial public offering in 2021. In continuing support for the commercialization of this groundbreaking technology, WRF Capital was an early investor in Sana Biotechnology.

Sana Biotechnology is continuing to develop cell-based therapies for heart failure and is also developing engineered cell therapies for other therapeutic areas, such as oncology, diabetes, central nervous system disorders and hemoglobinopathies.

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