With four pairs of oversized gold scissors snipping a wide red ribbon, the One Brave Idea Science Innovation Center officially opened for business in Boston.
That business: Finding a new way to solve the age-old problem of heart disease.
One Brave Idea is a $75 million research enterprise that is attacking the No. 1 killer in the world in ways that haven’t been tried. The project itself is a bit of an experiment because of how much it upends the typical formula for scientific research.
Instead of giving a smaller amount of money for one institution to seek incremental progress, the AHA, Verily and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca each contributed $25 million and their other vast resources to support a team of specialists from various backgrounds and institutions. The team is led by Calum MacRae, MD, PhD, and guided by his overarching vision.
MacRae’s vision is essentially creating an “early warning system.” He wants to figure out the causes of heart disease long before any symptoms appear. While that may seem like prevention, he considers it a precursor to that.
“What we’re really doing is moving from prevention back to that boundary of where heart disease first develops,” said MacRae, chief of cardiovascular medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “If we can identify those first transitions, we can maintain wellness longer.”
MacRae is eager to examine areas, such as the skin, that scientists have never considered as possible clues to heart problems. He’s also using new tools, ranging from those his team creates to those that exist but have never been used to study cardiovascular diseases.
“We look at One Brave Idea almost like a startup company,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the AHA and chair of One Brave Idea’s oversight committee. “It’s really helping us at this critical intersection of technology and science to find cures for patients and hope for families.”
One Brave Idea experiments are already under way at clinics and labs around Boston and across North America. Think of those locations as the spokes of a wheel and the Science Innovation Center as the hub.
The Innovation Center, located on the seventh floor of the Longwood Center, opened Oct. 3. The state-of-the-art life sciences building in Boston’s medical research area has a unique vibe to it, a sense that Verily CEO Andy Conrad described as being “Google-esque.”
“There’s an energy here you can just feel,” said Greg Keenan, AstraZeneca’s U.S. Head Medical Officer and a member of the project’s oversight committee. “This space actually represents the innovative nature that One Brave Idea is in general.”
MacRae, Chief Scientific Officer Stan Shaw and others have offices at the headquarters. There are a variety of conference rooms and workspaces of all sizes.
“This center provides an opportunity for the scientists, researchers, young investigators, mathematicians and data scientists who are all working together to find an end to coronary heart disease to have a single location where they can collaborate, while also recognizing and appreciating the virtual nature of the team,” Brown said.
MacRae had been thinking about an early warning system for years, but doubted he’d have a chance to explore it – mainly because of how different it is from traditional research. Then the One Brave Idea initiative was announced during Scientific Sessions in November 2015.
Last summer, MacRae was picked over 348 other applicants and immediately went to work.
He built a team of scientists, mathematicians, engineers and even a venture capitalist. They came up with all sorts of pilot projects and went into them with the technology world’s approach of being willing to fail fast and move on to the next-best thing. Three of these projects were showcased at the opening of the One Brave Idea Science Innovation Center.
The AHA’s $25 million investment is its largest in a single science project in the organization’s 93-year history. The organization has spent more than $4.1 billion on research, including more than $100 million annually since 1996.