Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne just announced a $35 million donation to research into the under-studied field of the human microbiome — specifically into research that could lead to new therapies for asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and other ailments.
The gift is to be split between UCSF and Stanford University, with $25 million going to launch the UCSF Benioff Center for Microbiome Medicine, led by medical professor Susan Lynch. As the SF Business Times reports, the $10 million gift to Stanford will go toward that school's Stanford Microbiome Therapies Initiative, led by former UCSF faculty member Michael Fischbach, and it will be supplemented with a $7 million gift from Veritas Software CEO Mark Leslie and his wife Debra.
The field of microbiome research is an emerging one, and Benioff said in a statement that he wants to help usher in a "new era" of understanding when it comes to gut bacteria. "With a deeper understanding of the human microbiome, our generation can unlock new treatments that impact lives around the world," Benioff says.
"Microbiome science has great potential for advancing our understanding and treatment of human disease," said Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, speaking to Stanford News. "Stanford faculty are studying the microbes that inhabit our bodies in health and disease and developing platforms to generate new therapies. This body of work creates a foundation for the Stanford Microbiome Therapies Initiative, which will foster interdisciplinary collaborations across the university to spark discoveries that will benefit patients."
UCSF and Stanford are together on the cutting edge of research into the human microbiome, and the two institutions have a history of both competition and collaboration.
Says UCSF's Lynch in a statement to the Business Times, "We are at a watershed moment in human biology — our health rests not only on the proper functioning of human genes but also on the genes and products of our microbiome." She adds that UCSF faculty are researching how to "develop tailored microbiome interventions to promote health."
Marc and Lynne Benioff have a history of generous philanthropy in the Bay Area, including their $200 million in donations toward Benioff Children's Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland — in gifts that were made between 2010 and 2018. In May, the Benioffs announced a $30 million grant to the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations (CVP) to launch the UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative. The initiative will involve academic research and the development of new data around urban homelessness, beginning in San Francisco.