Photo credit: Anil Kapahi

Designing a Pandemic-free Future

Seattle Foundation is pleased to announce the establishment of the IPD Breakthrough Fund at Seattle Foundation. This new fund supports the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design (IPD) to advance this rapidly developing field of protein design. Through the utilization of computer-designed synthetic proteins, IPD is developing solutions to today’s challenges in medicine, energy, and technology — including innovations in vaccines that combat COVID-19 and other viral threats.

Imagine what a pandemic response might look like in an ideal world. What do you envision?

Less isolation from family and friends. Uninterrupted education for our children. Lifesaving vaccines quickly made available to everyone around the globe.

A vision so different from what we are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We can make it happen. But we need universal vaccines that can protect us from entire families of viruses. And we need faster vaccine development when the next novel virus emerges.

Researchers at the UW Medicine Institute for Protein Design (IPD) have made impressive breakthroughs using computer-designed synthetic proteins to develop innovative vaccines. Their work is bringing us closer to a better, safer future for everyone — but philanthropic support is critical to maintaining the momentum, so we can stop the next pandemic before it starts.

“The role of philanthropy in catalyzing the protein design revolution can’t be overstated,” says Neil King, PhD, a biochemist at the IPD. “It’s been absolutely essential, allowing us to seize the moment by providing flexible funding that we can direct to the most important problems of the day. When SARS-CoV-2 hit, philanthropic support enabled us to immediately pivot and attack this problem with everything we had.”

Soon, the IPD’s work will receive additional funding. David Baker, PhD, director of the IPD, is the 2021 recipient of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, which recognizes the world’s top scientists working in the fundamental sciences. This prestigious award includes a $3 million prize, the full amount of which Baker is donating to the IPD. Baker’s gift — which was matched generously by friends of the IPD — establishes the Breakthrough Fund at Seattle Foundation, which solely supports the IPD to advance the rapidly developing field of protein design.

But ongoing support will be needed to keep advancing the IPD’s bold mission.

“Like Seattle Foundation, the IPD pivoted their work in 2020 to focus on COVID-19. As the community’s foundation, we are pleased to play a role in supporting protein design as it relates to creating a more equitable region and world, says David Bley, Seattle Foundation, interim CEO. “While we are not scientists, we can lend our expertise in accepting and holding gifts of complex assets, that in turn provide a flexible source of funding for the IPD—which is critical given the inconsistent nature of scientific research funding.”

Now, let’s imagine a brighter future. Universal vaccines could protect us from all strains of flu or SARS-CoV-2. The next time a new viral threat begins to spread, we could have vaccine prototypes already stockpiled, allowing us to develop vaccine candidates in a matter of weeks. No one would ever have to endure a global pandemic like COVID-19 again. And, with the help of philanthropic support, protein design can make it all possible.

To support the IPD Breakthrough Fund at Seattle Foundation, please contact your Philanthropic Advisor or reach out to our Philanthropic Services team at or 206.515.2111.

This excerpt is shared with permission from the University of Washington. To read the full article, please visit UW Medicine’s website.