Public Release: 

Helmsley awards $6.4M to Sage Bionetworks, Project, Mozilla Foundation

The Helmsley Charitable Trust

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust today announced grants, which together total more than $6.4 million, to three pioneering nonprofit organizations that promote more open, accurate and collaborative science: Sage Bionetworks, the Project and the Mozilla Foundation. The awards are the first made through the Trust's Biomedical Research Infrastructure Program, a new grantmaking program of the Trust dedicated to funding novel collaborative research platforms, data management tools and training initiatives that will improve research outcomes and speed biomedical discoveries.

"The biomedical research enterprise faces a number of structural challenges, including outdated and incompatible technologies, incentives that promote individual interests, and ongoing budget cuts, which prevent collaboration, impede access to data and, ultimately, limit the potential for life-saving laboratory breakthroughs," said John R. Ettinger, CEO of the Helmsley Charitable Trust. "As we developed this program, we identified an unmet funding need for tools and best practices that can harness the burgeoning power of big data to address these challenges and shift the research paradigm."

"Sage Bionetworks, the Project and the Mozilla Foundation are developing unique research infrastructure solutions that align with the program's primary focus areas," said Betsy Fader, program director for Helmsley's Biomedical Research Infrastructure Program. "We are pleased to help advance the innovative efforts of these organizations, which offer new and vitally necessary tools and standards that can be broadly applied across the research community."

About the grants:

Sage Bionetworks - Amount: $2,590,642; Term: Three Years

Sage Bionetworks, a nonprofit organization, promotes a community-based approach to scientific inquiry and discovery. This grant will help enhance Sage's innovative bioinformatics platform, "Synapse," via two distinct initiatives:

  • Integrate Sage Bionetwork's DREAM Challenge program into the Synapse platform. DREAM Challenges engage diverse communities of scientists in crowd-sourced big data competitions that focus on solving specific questions of bioscience. The Helmsley grant will enable Sage to develop a range of web services that will more effectively support and involve the scientific community in DREAM Challenges, enabling real-time information flow, dialogue and collaboration; and

  • Incorporate a "Wall of Questions" into the Synapse platform. The Wall will permit real-time online discussions around specific biomedical research inquiries among a diverse array of scientists whose interests may overlap and who can interact at a substantive level.

The Trust's grant to Sage will also fund the development of the first modular electronic patient consent process that will allow widespread re-usability of participant health data for research purposes. The process will be piloted in an upcoming breast cancer survivor study in which participants will provide e-consent for use of certain data via a new smartphone app.

The Project - Amount: $2,072,595; Term: Three Years

Researchers spend an inordinate amount of their time sifting through published literature in search of data they need to conduct their work. However, it currently is exceedingly difficult to access the data that underlie published research papers, and all too often the desired information is never located. To address this issue, the Project has developed a novel, open-source annotation platform that connects readers to source information. The Helmsley grant will help further advance the tools and reach of the platform through four separate initiatives:

  • Embed annotations into existing publications sources, starting with a pilot program utilizing the Neuroscience Information Framework (NIF) database;

  • Assign broadly accepted Research Resource Identifier coding to components in biomedical research publications (e.g., specific antibodies, genes, data sets, etc.), enabling researchers to access relevant articles and mentions regardless of the fields from which they are published;

  • Create technology that provides authorship credit for annotations, potentially producing an important new forum and incentive for scientists to share their results; and

  • Assess how each of the new technologies described above can be scaled and broadly adopted by scientific publications and contributing authors.

The Mozilla Foundation - Amount: $1,757,584; Term: Two Years

By some estimates, despite the billions of dollars spent on biomedical research each year, only 30 percent of the results achieved are reproducible. Many in the science community attribute this outcome, in part, to a lack of proper computational training. In an effort to make science more efficient and reliable, the Mozilla Foundation launched the Mozilla Science Lab (MSL) in 2013 as a hub for the open research community, including training researchers in best practices for scientific programming and open science. The Helmsley grant will expand capacity to meet the growing demand for participation in MSL's popular workshop training series, which has already reached more than 4,000 researchers. The grant will also create and pilot an "Instructor Fellows" program to increase and prepare the pool of volunteer scientists who conduct MSL's workshop courses, as well as include development of a data curriculum.


About the Helmsley Charitable Trust

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting effective nonprofits in health, place-based initiatives, and education and human services. Since 2008, when the Trust began its active grantmaking, it has committed more than $1 billion to a wide range of charitable organizations. The Trust's Biomedical Research Infrastructure Program seeks to fund new technology platforms, data tools, training and best practices initiatives that promote scientific collaboration and enhance the quality and reproducibility of research. For more information, visit

About Sage Bionetworks

Sage Bionetworks is a nonprofit biomedical research organization, founded in 2009, with a vision to promote innovations in personalized medicine by enabling a community-based approach to scientific inquiries and discoveries. Sage Bionetworks strives to activate patients and to incentivize scientists, funders and researchers to work in fundamentally new ways in order to shape research, accelerate access to knowledge and transform human health. It is located on the campus of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington and is supported through a portfolio of philanthropic donations, competitive research grants, and commercial partnerships. More information is available at

About the Project

The Project is a San Francisco-based, non-profit focused on enabling humans to reason more effectively together through a shared, collaborative discussion layer over all knowledge.

About the Mozilla Foundation

Mozilla is a non-profit organization best known as the makers of Firefox. One of the world's largest social enterprises, they promote openness, innovation, and opportunity online. The Mozilla Science Lab is an initiative dedicated to helping researchers use the power and culture of the web to change the way research is done. The Science Lab strives to provide resource by way of technical partnerships and pilots, best practice and educational programs to help make research more efficient. The initiative is led by Kaitlin Thaney, and is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. For more information, visit

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