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Open Philanthropy Project pours funds into high-risk research [via Nature]

Nature features Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna’s Open Philanthropy Project, which has significantly boosted its spending to $200 million this year, of which around $40 million was on scientific research.

Open Phil, based in San Francisco, California, acknowledges the high odds of failure of the basic research it funds and, for a private funder, publishes brutally honest assessments of its projects. These range from developing lab-made meat alternatives to a controversial genetic-engineering technology called gene drive. For its latest funding round, it asked scientists whose grant applications had been rejected by an NIH competition for risky research to dust off their proposals. Some 120 researchers resubmitted their requests, and the project awarded $10.8 million to four teams…

Many philanthropists shy away from basic science because the pay-offs tend to be long term and the risks high, says Marc Kastner, president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance in Palo Alto, California, a coalition of foundations that advocates for private funding of basic science. But the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who bankroll organizations such as the Open Philanthropy Project and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are used to long odds, says Kastner. “The risk-taking is not an issue for them. They don’t want to be supporting a sure thing.”