Hansjörg Wyss, Harvard M.B.A. '65, Gives Unprecedented Third Major Gift to Harvard to Support the Wyss Institute's Mission to Develop and Commercialize World-Changing Technologies

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., June 7, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University announced today the latest gift of $131 million from its founding entrepreneur and philanthropist, Hansjörg Wyss (Harvard M.B.A. '65).

The Wyss Institute seeks to bridge the gap between academia and industry by drawing inspiration from nature's design principles to solve some of the world's most complex challenges in healthcare and the environment, and commercializing those solutions to maximize their impact.

"Hansjörg Wyss has helped to expand what we know and what we can accomplish across a wide range of disciplines. The advances that his generosity has enabled will change the future for countless people," said Harvard University President Larry Bacow. "His third gift to support the work of the Wyss Institute will ensure the continued success of our extraordinarily talented faculty and staff, as well as create new opportunities for collaboration and growth. We are deeply grateful for his support."

In 2009, Wyss made possible the Institute's creation with a founding $125 million gift. A second gift to the University in 2013 enabled the Institute to grow and advance its pioneering work. This third gift announced today will continue to enable the progress the Institute has made during its initial ten years, amplify its already significant impact, and sustain the Institute's leadership in the field of Biologically Inspired Engineering. Wyss's giving over many years and across the University amounts to more than $400 million.

"When talented, creative people are given the freedom to work together across disciplines, there are few problems they cannot solve," said Wyss. "In the last decade, the Wyss Institute has made breakthrough after breakthrough to improve medicine and to apply the latest science to the betterment of peoples' lives. I am happy to continue my support for the Wyss Institute and Harvard and look forward to seeing what the Institute discovers and creates in the years ahead."

Wyss's support for the Institute's unique model--interdisciplinary collaboration between scientists from disparate fields and industry experts--has led to sustained productivity in the last decade, including more than 2,500 patent filings, 50 licensing agreements, 27 startups, and numerous industry collaborations. The groundbreaking discoveries, designs, and technologies the Institute has produced across a range of areas have a shared potential to improve human health on a global scale. Some of the breakthroughs that Hansjörg Wyss' gifts have enabled are:

    --  Cancer VaccineOne of cancer's most insidious tricks is deactivating the
        body's immune cells, which normally find and kill malfunctioning cells.
        A project from the lab of David Mooney, Ph.D. created a small
        implantable scaffold made of a biodegradable polymer that contains
        components derived from a patient's cancer cells to act as "triggers."
        When immune cells pass through the scaffold, they become activated and
        can successfully hunt and kill cancer cells elsewhere in the body. This
        process also creates a vaccine-like "memory" of the cancer so that any
        future cancer cells will be killed. The technology was licensed by
        Novartis in 2018 and is currently in human clinical trials, where it is
        showing remarkable promise in treating patients with melanoma.

    --  Human Organs-on-ChipsAny drug that is developed for humans is first
        tested on animals to determine its safety and efficacy, but because
        animals are metabolically and genetically different from humans, drugs
        that work in mice or rats often fail to work in people. In addition,
        patients sometimes react differently to different drugs, but it is
        difficult to predict what those reactions will be before the drug is
        administered. One of the first startups founded to commercialize a Wyss
        technology, Emulate, Inc. aims to solve this problem with
        Organs-on-Chips: clear, flexible microfluidic chips that can be seeded
        with live human cells to recapitulate the function of human organs ex
        vivo. This technology was created by the lab of Wyss Founding Director
        Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., and has the potential to eliminate animal
        testing, greatly accelerate the drug development process, and enable
        personalized medicine.

    --  Synthetic Biology-Enabled Molecular DiagnosticsDiagnosing a patient with
        the correct illness is necessary to treat any disease, and recent
        diagnostic technologies have emerged that can determine sickness or
        health on a molecular level. However, most molecular diagnostic tools
        are costly, labor-intensive, and require advanced lab equipment, making
        them difficult to deploy in low-resource settings. A synthetic-biology
        based diagnostic sensor developed by Wyss Core Faculty member James
        Collins, Ph.D. can detect molecules of DNA and RNA with extremely high
        precision and produces an easy-to-read visual signal. Crucially, this
        process can be done at room temperature and does not require any
        scientific instruments, allowing molecular diagnostics to be brought to
        the front lines of disease outbreaks. The technology was licensed by
        Sherlock Biosciences in 2019.

    --  Robotic Exosuits for Stroke RehabilitationNearly a million Americans
        suffer from a stroke every year, and 80% of them lose the ability to use
        one of their legs normally. Even after undergoing physical therapy, many
        patients never regain a normal walking gait, are more prone to falls,
        and become more sedentary. Wearable "exoskeletons" are being developed
        to provide support during walking and rehabilitation, but these devices
        are large, hard, and expensive, limiting their use. Wyss researchers in
        the lab of Conor Walsh, Ph.D. have created a light, soft, fabric-based
        "exosuit" that applies assistive force to correct patients' gait during
        walking and can be worn during normal daily activities. The exosuit was
        licensed in 2016 by ReWalk Robotics, which is commercializing it for
        stroke and multiple sclerosis patients.

A decade after Wyss founded the Institute, 375 full-time staff collaborate and work in 100,000 square feet of research space shared between Harvard's Longwood Medical Campus and Cambridge sites. The community of scientists, biologists, physicists, chemists, engineers, and clinicians includes 18 Core Faculty, 16 Associate Faculty, and numerous students, postdocs, and fellows, as well as more than 25 scientists and engineers recruited from industry with extensive experience in product development and team management across multiple disciplines and industries. In addition to their technology commercialization efforts, Wyss Institute faculty and staff have published over 2,000 scientific articles, with an average of one paper in Science or Nature per month since 2009.

"From developing singular insights and cutting edge approaches, to creating bioinspired materials and feats of engineering, the Wyss Institute had and will continue to have a powerful impact," said Harvard University Provost Alan Garber. "Through the many technologies it creates as well as the partnerships it has cultivated, the institute shines a light on the convening power of Harvard and the creative brilliance of its faculty and staff. We are truly grateful Mr. Wyss's generosity and for placing his trust in Harvard."

Garber emphasized the Institute's alliances to all of Harvard's schools, as well as to other leading academic and clinical institutions in the Boston area and around the world. This collaboration and the bridges it has built between academia and industry have been key to the Institute's ability to accelerate the development of novel diagnostics and therapeutics.

"The Wyss Institute exists because of Hansjörg Wyss' vision that crossing disciplinary boundaries and collaborating across both different scientific fields and different research institutions is crucial for bringing about transformative change. His faith in us and commitment to this vision has enabled us to build a truly revolutionary engine for disruptive innovation," said the Institute's Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children's Hospital, as well as Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "We are honored and humbled by Mr. Wyss' continued generosity, and we will continue to strive to push the envelope of technology innovation and translation of these technologies into products that can bring about near-term positive change world-wide."

A native of Switzerland, Wyss is a philanthropist dedicated to helping save the world's remaining wild places and to protecting and empowering the most vulnerable in a society, as well as to encouraging breakthroughs in medicine and science. His philanthropy is made possible by his success in starting and growing a medical research and design company, the Pennsylvania-based Synthes USA, whose products have helped millions of patients recover from skeletal and soft tissue trauma and injuries.

Today's gift is being made through the Wyss Foundation, created in 1998, and known for helping protect some of the world's most iconic landscapes--from Montana's Crown of the Continent to the headwaters of the Amazon river in the Andes Mountains--and ensuring they remain open and accessible to all. All together, the Wyss Foundation has invested more than $450 million to help local communities, land trusts, and nonprofit partners conserve more than 40 million acres of land in North America, Africa, Europe, Australia and South America. Last fall, in a New York Times op-ed, Wyss announced he was donating $1 billion over the next decade to help conserve at least 30% of the planet in a natural state by the year 2030.

Christopher Hennessy, Harvard University

Lindsay Brownell, Wyss Institute at Harvard University

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