Marc and Lynne Benioff Donate $35M to UCSF, Stanford to Advance Microbiome Science

Gifts Will Accelerate Development of Microbe-Based Therapies

By Nicholas Weiler

With gifts totaling $35 million from Marc and Lynne Benioff, UC San Francisco and Stanford University are launching new research initiatives on their respective campuses to leverage the growing science of the human microbiome. The efforts aim to develop microbe-based diagnostics and precision therapies for diseases ranging from allergy and asthma to inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis.

The gifts to UCSF and Stanford reflect the Benioffs’ ongoing commitment to the scientific community in the Bay Area.

two researchers talk
Susan Lynch, PhD, will lead the new UCSF Benioff Center for Microbiome Medicine. Photo by Barbara Ries

UCSF will receive $25 million to launch the UCSF Benioff Center for Microbiome Medicine, which will be led by Susan Lynch, PhD, a professor of medicine at UCSF, founding director of the UCSF Microbiome Research Core and associate director of the UCSF Microbiome in Inflammatory Bowel Disease Research Program.

Stanford will receive $10 million for the Stanford Microbiome Therapies Initiative (MITI), which is being led by Michael Fischbach, PhD, an associate professor of bioengineering and an Institute Scholar of Stanford ChEM-H. Philanthropists Mark and Debra Leslie have provided an additional $7 million to bring Stanford closer to its overall goal for the initiative.

In recent years, research has revealed that the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in and on us – collectively known as our microbiome – provide critical contributions to our health. At the same time, a multitude of diseases have been linked to imbalances in the microbial ecology of the human body. The science has progressed to a point where researchers now envision a new field of microbiome-based medicine, which aims to prevent or treat disease by cultivating healthier microbial ecosystems and weeding out specific microbial troublemakers.

The UCSF Benioff Center for Microbiome Medicine aims to radically rethink the role of the microbiome in early life and develop new interventions to prevent childhood diseases. The center will leverage the university’s expertise in microbiome research to launch collaborations with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in Oakland and San Francisco and institutions nationwide, with the goal of building a holistic understanding of our interactions with microbes in diseases of early life and across the lifespan. Through this work, center members hope to find new ways to predict, prevent and treat dermatological, gastrointestinal, respiratory and neurological disorders linked to microbiome dysfunction.

Stanford’s MITI will focus on building and engineering complete microbial communities, with the goal of developing new microbiome-based therapies and testing them in early-stage human clinical trials. This effort, which will bring together a team of scientists, engineers and clinicians, draws on Stanford's expertise in solving complex problems through bold interdisciplinary initiatives and translating those discoveries into human therapies.

The two Bay Area Benioff-funded initiatives will work together to further a joint goal of advancing innovative microbiome-based therapies. UCSF and Stanford have an established tradition of faculty partnership in the field, including a robust collaboration on microbiome research projects facilitated by the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, a research institute affiliated with UC Berkeley, UCSF and Stanford.

This new support from the Benioffs will further leverage the significant strength in basic, translational and clinical medicine in the Bay Area and accelerate the development of therapies for patients with microbiome-linked diseases worldwide.

Comments on the Initiatives

“Lynne and I are honored to support the cutting-edge research of two of the world’s leading universities as they pioneer a new era of microbiome research, science and therapies. With a deeper understanding of the human microbiome, our generation can unlock new treatments that impact lives around the world.”
– Marc Benioff

“We are at a watershed moment in human biology--our health rests not only on the proper functioning of human genes, but also on the genes and products of our microbiome. At UCSF, we are leveraging this knowledge and our exceptional community of faculty across campus to identify those at risk of disease and to develop tailored microbiome interventions to promote health.”
– Susan Lynch, Director, UCSF Benioff Center for Microbiome Medicine

“The biggest opportunities and challenges in this area can be traced back to one thing: the microbiome has been impossible to study in a controlled way. The discoveries that will stand the test of time, and will make a difference for patients, will come from building completely defined microbiomes and manipulating them precisely. The engineers and scientists in MITI are singularly focused on this goal and stand ready to invent any technology necessary to meet it.”
– Michael Fischbach, Director, Stanford Microbiome Therapies Initiative

“Advances in microbiome science have great potential for improving our understanding and treatment of human disease. The new Stanford Microbiome Therapies Initiative will foster interdisciplinary collaborations, spark discoveries and accelerate the development of new therapies that benefit patients. I'm thankful to UCSF for its shared commitment to this important field, and to Marc and Lynne Benioff for energizing the work of our intercampus teams through their generosity.”
– Tessier-Lavigne, President, Stanford University

“The generosity of Marc and Lynne Benioff will accelerate the ability of our world-leading experts in the rapidly developing science of the human microbiome to develop a new generation of living cell therapies. This is the perfect opportunity to join forces with our Stanford colleagues to leverage the exciting fundamental discoveries of the past decade and the clinical excellence found across UCSF in order to dramatically advance human health.”
­– Sam Hawgood, Chancellor, UCSF

The Benioffs’ Contributions to Bay Area Healthcare, Research

This new, $35 million strategic philanthropic investment by the Benioffs in innovative microbiome endeavors at Stanford and UCSF follows their long history of supporting healthcare in the Bay Area. Since 2005, the couple has pledged more than $389 million to UCSF, including $200 million to support the Benioff Children’s Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland and $50 million to launch the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals Preterm Birth Initiative in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Of this total giving, they allocated $15 million to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland to address the acute shortage of mental health services for children and adolescents in Oakland and the East Bay. The Benioffs also recently donated $30 million to launch the UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, which researches drivers of homelessness to identify evidence-based solutions.
 
About UCSF: The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is exclusively focused on the health sciences and is dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. UCSF Health, which serves as UCSF’s primary academic medical center, includes top-ranked specialty hospitals and other clinical programs, and has affiliations throughout the Bay Area.
 
About Stanford: With basic sciences, engineering, medicine and two hospitals housed on a single campus, Stanford is positioned to translate basic discoveries into new patient therapies. The Microbiome Therapies Initiative builds on Stanford’s expertise in microbiome research and leverages the strengths and proximity of Stanford’s schools of Medicine and Engineering, bridged by the interdisciplinary institute Stanford ChEM-H (Chemistry, Engineering and Medicine for Human Health).