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Sustainability and Support

The path from basic research to new therapeutics has evolved over the last decade. Increasingly, the efforts of “de-risking” a translational research project is done by the scientists who made the original discovery. It makes sense that these translational explorations should take place at a research university like Rockefeller, where scientists have a deeper and more contextual understanding of the underlying biology and chemistry. But it also shifts the financial responsibility to the university. As studies proceed from cells to humans, the cost of research gets significantly more expensive.

In 2014, the Rockefeller University made a big programmatic bet that transformed the scientific culture on campus. Recognizing the untapped clinical potential of the basic research underway in university laboratories, Rockefeller—in partnership with the Robertson Foundation—launched the Therapeutic Development Fund, one of the first drug and diagnostics discovery programs located on a university campus. That bet has exceeded the donor’s and the university’s hopes for success. The TDF is the bedrock of a robust translational ecosystem and one of the most successful enterprises ever launched at the university.

A level of sustainability is built into the TDF model. University royalties from successful therapeutics are reinvested in the innovative research that serves as the foundation for new medical knowledge and better therapeutics. Still, for every 24 projects that enter the therapeutic pipeline at a pharmaceutical company, only one new drug will succeed. It is imperative that the university endow the TDF so that scientists with promising projects have the resources to succeed.

The Robertson Foundation provided a final gift to sustain the TDF while the university seeks a new donor who can help to ensure that this mature program can continue to support transformative research with therapeutic potential.

To read more about philanthropic opportunities to support Rockefeller’s Translational Research Ecosystem, please visit