The Allen Institute today announced the launch of the Allen Institute for Immunology, a new division of the Institute that is dedicated to studying the human immune system. Seeded by a generous commitment of $125 million by Allen Institute founder, the late Paul G. Allen, the new Institute will work to understand the dynamic balancing act of the human immune system, how it senses friend from foe and what goes wrong when we’re ill.
“Paul Allen always challenged us to go after the really hard problems, to do work that would have a significant impact in our scientific fields,” said Allan Jones, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of the Allen Institute. “Understanding the human immune system in detail and figuring out what goes wrong in disease is an incredibly complex but solvable problem. I’m thrilled to see us launch into this new area of complexity in biology with a real opportunity to directly impact human health.”
The Allen Institute for Immunology’s goal is to improve human immune health and lay the groundwork for better ways to diagnose, treat and prevent immune-related diseases. In its initial phase, the Institute will focus on studies of two cancers, multiple myeloma and melanoma, and three autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, specifically, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The researchers will also take a deep dive into the immune systems of healthy volunteers with the goal of understanding what makes a “normal” immune baseline and how to help patients return to that healthy state.
Thomas F. Bumol, Ph.D., is the Executive Director for the Allen Institute for Immunology. Bumol joins the Institute from Lilly Research Laboratories where he worked for more than 35 years, most recently as Senior Vice-President of the Biotechnology and Immunology Research component and the Site Head of Lilly’s Biotechnology Center of San Diego. His work at Lilly focused on drug discovery and early clinical development of treatments for many disease areas including diabetes, pain and immune-related diseases such as psoriasis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
“By unraveling the mysteries of the dynamic immune system in healthy individuals and focusing the same cutting-edge tools on patients in various disease states, we believe we will find new ways to diagnose and ultimately treat disease,” Bumol said. “We are looking at problems that have large unmet needs. Patients are not only suffering from these immune-based illnesses, patients are dying from some of these disorders, and we would like to change that.”
The Allen Institute for Immunology will build off the model of large-scale team science established by the Allen Institute’s two other research divisions, the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the Allen Institute for Cell Science, and will work directly with samples and data from patients and healthy volunteers, thanks to a unique partnership with five leading research organizations: Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the University of California San Diego with the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and the University of Pennsylvania.
“The new focus on immunology draws on the Allen Institute’s 15-year history of groundbreaking basic and translational scientific discovery,” said Marshall Horwitz, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Dean of UW Medicine and chair of the scientific advisory board for the Allen Institute for Immunology. “By building new tools for its study, the Allen Institute for Immunology will help lead the way forward in deciphering the mysteries of the immune system while unleashing its power to prevent and treat a wide range of afflictions.”
There are more than 80 different autoimmune diseases and more than 100 human cancers, as well as many more diseases that involve the immune system, affecting tens of millions of people around the world. Yet researchers are not even close to a complete understanding of what makes a healthy immune system, let alone what goes wrong in that system in disease. The Allen Institute for Immunology aims to fill that knowledge gap with detailed studies of the foundational components of the immune system — its cell types and networks — and how those components change over the course of one to three years in both healthy volunteers and patients with different immune-related diseases.
Beyond the direct findings the research teams will make by studying the initial five diseases, their in-depth studies of healthy adult and childhood immune systems will enable other researchers around the world to make discoveries that could lead to new treatments for many more diseases. Like the other research teams at the Allen Institute, the Allen Institute for Immunology researchers will make their data and tools openly available online for anyone in the scientific community to use.
“This is just the tip of a really big iceberg of opportunity,” Bumol said. “If this model works, we’ll have applications that will go way beyond these first few diseases we’re studying. We’ll see the impact grow across a large swath of human health.”