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Funding Biomedical Research Programs: Contributions of the Markey Trust
award mechanism differed from those made by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) in terms of both the size and flexibility of the award and in the selection process used to make the grants. The process focused on people with established records of success in science rather than the research proposal per se.
Dollars provided by the Research Program Grants were invested in recruiting young scientists and provided start-up packages. These grants also funded equipment, infrastructure development, and research by leading scientists. However, it is impossible to assess the outcomes of individual awardees.
The size and focus of Research Program Grants awards changed during the tenure of the Trust. A program of large awards to enhance infrastructure development and create new programs at academic medical centers evolved into one where smaller awards were made to individual investigators to further their research.
The Trust developed procedures that maximized the flexibility of the awards, and this flexibility—according to those interviewed—led to efficient uses of Trust funds. The Trust focused on minimizing the bureaucracy in its administration of Research Program Grants awards.
The committee believes that the Trust’s goal of funding high-risk biomedical research, research that would not ordinarily be funded by NIH, NSF, or other funders, was met. Although examining the portfolio of grants in terms of whether they were high risk was beyond the scope of this evaluation, the committee noted that a number of grants supported research programs in their nascent stages.
Finally, the committee believes that a number of aspects of the Markey model of philanthropy, including its design as a limited-term trust, are worthy of consideration by other funders interested in fostering biomedical research.
Through the Research Program Grants, the Markey Trust created a program that identified established leading scientists with promising ideas and models, provided them with substantial funding, and minimized administrative barriers in order to maximize their potential to take risks, support good young scientists in their labs, buy equipment, and build infrastructure to advance biomedical research. The need still remains for funding basic biomedical research whose outcomes are neither ensured nor predictable.