Updated: July 9, 2021

Dan Searle

Daniel C. Searle

The CBC was launched in December 2001 by the late Chicago philanthropist Dan Searle (right). Dan had a steadfast belief in the importance of scientific discovery, and he believed that collaboration among Chicago’s leading research universities was essential for both scientific and civic advancement. Faculty members at Northwestern, the University of Chicago, and UIC were challenged to think of ways to foster collaboration. The task was to design a plan that pulled faculty from across the city into a connected intellectual community, reducing rivalries and encouraging cooperation. Dan indicated that very substantial funding could be available for a proposal that passed muster.

This was quite visionary and innovative. Sylvia Manning, then the Chancellor at UIC, described the concept as “revolutionary” and “irresistible.”

In 2002, with a Planning Grant from The Chicago Community Trust, work began to turn a concept into reality. Each university sent representatives to form a city-wide Strategic Planning Group. Many ideas were considered at many meetings. Many busy faculty members donated many hours to the process. Key faculty leaders of the Strategic Planning Group were Rick Morimoto (Northwestern), Brenda Russell (UIC), and Jonathan Silverstein (University of Chicago). At the request of the University of Chicago and Northwestern provosts, Brenda Nelms and Katie Stallcup also played an active role in the development of the CBC.

The Strategic Planning Group settled on a name for the organization in the making – Chicago Biomedical Consortium (or CBC), on its logo, and on a mission statement. The mission includes both short-term goals and hoped-for longer-term impacts, and is the framework for all CBC programs and activities.

In 2003, the CBC submitted a proposal to The Chicago Community Trust for an ambitious Demonstration Project. The project was designed to demonstrate the ability of the three universities to work together in selecting a major piece of research equipment that would be useful to a broad range of scientists. The instrument cost almost a million dollars, and the first test of ‘community spirit’ was to cooperatively decide which one university would get to own the instrument, while also providing wide access to it.

The Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust made a grant of $1.5 million in 2004 to fund the Demonstration Project. As a sign of institutional commitment, each provost agreed to contribute an additional $150,000. By late summer of 2005, the CBC Proteomics and Informatics Service Facility was up and running at UIC.

The Searle Family is committed to involved and informed philanthropy. In particular, the CBC was very fortunate to have the advice and guidance of Nancy S. Searle during its formative years, up until late 2010. On behalf of the Searle Consultants to The Chicago Community Trust, Ms. Searle assembled a team of outside experts to evaluate the performance of the Demonstration Project. These experts concluded that the CBC deserved additional operating funding.

In 2006, the CBC received a grant of $5 million per year from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, providing operating funds for 2006 through 2010.

During this period, the CBC made awards in a variety of program areas. While most of the awards are designed to foster collaborative research, CBC also supports faculty recruitment and a variety of educational programs. All awards are made on the basis of scientific merit, innovation, and impact, as described elsewhere on the website.

Late in 2009, the CBC was again evaluated by outside consultants. Based on the outcome of this review, the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust renewed operational funding for another five years, from 2011 through 2015, with programs continuing to build collaboration, support faculty recruitment and develop infrastructure that could broadly support the basic sciences across the community.

During the most recent renewal application process, the CBC was challenged to refine its focus and take on a new and even more ambitious mission moving forward. As a result, on January 1, 2017, the CBC launched “Phase 2,” with support from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust. The renewal is for the next five years, 2017 through 2021. Phase 2 will feature increased emphasis on translational research and will include programs to foster and mentor biomedical entrepreneurs. The CBC will work closely with the Chicago biomedical community and will enhance its collaborations with the biotechnology industry, all with the goal of improving the health of humankind and making a more vibrant Chicago. Reflecting the CBC’s shift toward translational and entrepreneurial impact during Phase 2, biotech and pharmaceutical industry veteran Jim Audia joined as Executive Director in August, 2017, succeeding Katie Stallcup who had ably guided the organization since its beginning and who retired in September.

While the CBC operates with the much-appreciated guidance and support of the university Provosts, it remains a grass-roots-style organization. There is a Scientific Director from each university, and they, along with the Executive Director, provide leadership for the overall enterprise. Advisory boards provide the peer review that assures the merit of funded projects. A newly established Executive Oversight Board (EOB) brings together the university Provosts, representatives from the Searle Family and The Chicago Community Trust, and biomedical industry leaders to provide general oversight of the CBC, holding the Scientific Directors and CBC staff accountable for achieving the goals established for Phase 2. The members of the EOB also provide guidance and, where possible, assistance, on the major Phase 2 initiatives to expand linkages with the biomedical industry, fundraise, and raise the public profile of the CBC.

Cutting-edge research typically takes several years to come to real fruition, but even so, CBC can point to major accomplishments as of December 31, 2020:

  • 358 Awards of various types have supported the biomedical research enterprise in Chicago, including collaborative projects of exceptional creativity and impact.
  • 8 outstanding new faculty members have joined the Chicago research community.
  • Over 2,650 research papers have been published as a result of CBC funding.
  • Six National Research Centers have been established in Chicago with the help of the CBC.
  • CBC-funded research has generated $856.4 million of further funding.

The vision, commitment, and generosity of the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust has made the CBC possible. It is unusual for philanthropists to have the interest and wherewithal to support biomedical research on a large scale. Chicago is fortunate indeed to have this special kind of donor in our city. The CBC is also deeply grateful to the CBC universities (Northwestern, UIC, and the University of Chicago), which have provided extensive, ongoing support of the CBC enterprise.

CBC Milestones
Planning Grant Awarded & Strategic Planning Group Formed

Demonstration Project Submitted to The Chicago Community Trust

Proteomics / Informatics Demonstration Project Funded

Evaluation of Demonstration Project

Grant from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust for CBC Operating Funds for 2006 through 2010

Renewal of CBC Operational Funding by the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust for another five years, from 2011 through 2015

The Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust renew funding of the CBC from 2017 through 2021. CBC Phase 2 is launched, with the aim of strengthening the Chicago biomedical ecosystem and accelerating the translation of basic discoveries into therapies.