Three multidisciplinary research teams have been named inaugural recipients of Scripps Research’s Collaborative Innovation Fund, which was established to support new foundational research that could lead to paradigm-shifting scientific breakthroughs. The fund addresses the difficulties that truly innovative, high-risk, high-reward science faces in securing financial support at its inception.

“With the award of two consecutive Nobel Prizes to investigators whose work was developed at Scripps Research, the institute has established a remarkable record for producing emerging technologies that address and solve critical scientific problems with wide scope and lasting impact,” says Tom Daniel, MD, Scripps Research Board member and founder of The Collaborative Innovation Fund. “The opportunity is to advance the next generation of landmark discoveries and innovation.” 

Among this year’s winners are chemists Ahmed Badran, PhD, and Jin-Quan Yu, PhD, who are collaborating on a research project entitled “Bioinspired metallocatalysts through site-directed proteogenic Pd recruitment.” Their work will focus on bridging the speed and control afforded by enzymes with the reaction scope of synthetic catalysts, enabling the creation of new chemical structures at large scale and low cost. Together, the team will deliver artificial metalloenzymes that will enable drug discovery and biofuel generation, offering a more sustainable future for medicine and energy.

The fund’s second winning team includes Xin Jin, PhD, in the Department of Neuroscience, and Ilia Droujinine, PhD, in the Department of Molecular Medicine. Their project, entitled “Functional IN-vivo Discovery of Receptors (FINDR) to de-orphan secreted signaling proteins,” will map the elusive cellular circuits behind interorgan communication. At the interface of genomics and physiology, the versatile technology developed by Jin and Droujinine will uncover new relationships between receptors and their messenger molecules, providing much needed insight into systemic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.

The final recipients of the fund are neuroscientist Li Ye, PhD, and chemist Phil Baran, PhD. Their research program, entitled “An electrochemical strategy toward spatially resolved pharmacology,” will solve the current limitations in visualizing reversible drug-target interactions in living organisms. Using electrochemistry in vivo, the Baran and Ye labs will image target-bound drugs in the central nervous system with precise spatial resolution, transforming our understanding of drug efficacy and potential side effects.

The Collaborative Innovation Fund is deployed through internal grant competition cycles. Every cycle distributes $450,000 to $750,000 to each winning team over three years. The grant provides the requisite seed funding to launch these high-risk, high-reward projects from their initial concept and help mature them to a point where more traditional sources of funding can be secured.

The fund prioritizes basic research projects that have a strong likelihood of substantially advancing technological innovation, advancing new applications for emerging technology, transforming applicability of existing technology, and combining complementary methods at the intersection of different disciplines. Proposals must be exceptionally novel in nature, directed at addressing fundamental problems with the potential for high scientific impact.

“My career has been enriched by interdisciplinary collaborations,” says Daniel. “This is an opportunity for scientists and funders to propel truly innovative research with the ability to change lives.”

Learn more about, or contribute to, the Collaborative Innovation Fund.