Big philanthropic gifts can be powerful vehicles of transformation for any young organization. With a history of scientific renown and entrepreneurial success, Institute for Protein Innovation (IPI) cofounder Tim Springer, not surprisingly, is such an influencer of change.
His recent $210 million donation to IPI has helped to create an endowment for the protein science-focused institute, one that gives the Institute the capacity to scale, build its synthetic antibody operation and formulate a new model for the distribution of protein reagents that will most impact scientific communities.
We asked Springer about his inspiration for the gift. Here are his thoughts.
Q: Was there a moment that inspired you to make your latest gift to IPI?
Springer: Since I founded IPI, I’ve wanted to make it permanent. I really loved the idea of a foundry for protein tools that would help scientists make discoveries and possibly new therapeutics for many years to come. I was hoping that we could achieve that.
Early on, we were trying to raise money and as usual, raising money from other parties is difficult. I decided that rather than trying, I would just start another company or two and then donate the money.
I was quite fortunate that Moderna was one of the companies I started. Once the Moderna stock really started to take off, I thought this would be a really great use for that money. And I became excited about making a transformative gift. Then, IPI would be established in perpetuity.
Q: Why put $210 million behind antibodies?
Springer: Well, I’ve seen how essential antibodies are through my experience making and distributing monoclonal antibodies. I thought, if IPI can successfully make good recombinant antibodies using yeast display or other methods, these could be powerful tools for biomedical research and therapeutics.
“I really loved the idea of a foundry for protein tools that would help scientists make discoveries.” — Tim Springer, IPI co-founder
Q: What about other protein binders, like mini proteins?
Springer: There have been a lot of different binding reagents proposed. But there is still nothing that has taken over from antibodies. Antibodies are not threatened as the main biological recognition agent today. A significant reason is that they’ve been tested and improved through hundreds of millions of years of evolution.
Q: You’ve mentioned that genomics is a fast-paced field that’s become increasingly popular. How might IPI impact the advances of genomics?
Springer: Molecular biology tools are quite versatile and allow a considerable amount to be done. But proteins are the missing link because they allow researchers to touch the gene product. There’s just a multitude of ways in which we are enabling genomics. Likewise, genomics has been enabling us.
Q: What are the major advancements happening now in protein science?
AlphaFold can design protein structures. Eventually, it can be used to design antibodies. It hasn’t been successful so far, but I think it will be doable in the next 10 or 20 years. That is a very exciting thing IPI can participate in.
Also, combining advances in AlphaFold and machine learning with high-throughput approaches –– because probably not every design is going to be perfect –– there can be a big synergy between IPI, machine learning and AI.
Q: Why did IPI choose Ken Fasman as its first president and CEO?
Springer: We brought Ken in because he was one of the top three leaders of Jackson Laboratories, and they do basic research and are a nonprofit that sells a product, mice, and, more importantly, services for the biomedical research community.
I think Jackson is really a wonderful model –– maybe the best model out there today –– of how you can have leading academic research that synergizes with selling useful products to the community –– and is commercially viable while remaining a nonprofit. Ken will capture that for IPI.
Q: What is the take-home message about your journey in creating and committing to IPI?
Springer: It’s challenging to set something up from scratch, so we have to give it some time to evolve. It’s very exciting, and I’m very optimistic.
About the Institute for Protein Innovation
IPI is pioneering a new approach to scientific discovery and collaboration. As a nonprofit research institute, we provide the biomedical research community with synthetic antibodies and deep protein expertise, empowering scientists to explore fundamental biological processes and pinpoint new targets for therapeutic development. Our mission is to advance protein science to accelerate research and improve human health. For more information, visit proteininnovation.org or follow us on social media, @ipiproteins.