Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas, a developmental biologist at Yale and later at Harvard, and Stelios Papadopoulos, a structural biologist turned Wall Street investment banker focused on biotechnology, became close friends during the 1990s through their collaboration as co-founders in biotech startups.
Their passion for biological research and education as well as their interest in offering career advice and support to young professionals in the biomedical sciences, prompted them to establish Fondation Santé in 2000, capitalizing it with a donation of shares of stock following the initial public offering of Exelixis, one of the companies they had helped co-found. Soon they were joined by Fulla Chapple as Executive Director and by several outstanding professionals who constituted the Board of Directors, the Members of the Foundation, and the Scientific Advisory Board. The original scope was broad in that the foundation sought to assist young scientists throughout the Balkans and southeastern Mediterranean. Indeed, some of the scientists we supported in the first few years came from countries other than Greece and Cyprus.
The Greek financial crisis that began in the autumn of 2009 has greatly reduced the amount of funding for academic research, profoundly affecting existing research teams, and impeding the development of young scientists. We responded to this crisis by refocusing our efforts. Since 2012 most of our funding has been directed toward supporting academic scientists carrying out biomedical research in institutions in Greece and Cyprus.
The search for scientific truth, what we know as basic research, is a cornerstone of civilized society. Excellence in research is closely linked to quality in education, regardless of the field of inquiry, and without quality in education, society is doomed. Governments often ignore this connection, particularly during difficult financial times when the easiest way to cut expenses is to reduce funding on projects with no near-term tangible return.
The financial crisis in Greece has devastated the county’s young generation, which is plagued by unemployment, lacks inspiring higher education, and no longer trusts existing institutions. Hundreds of thousands of the most able and best educated young people seek their future outside of Greece.
Our ambition is to help improve conditions, even if modestly, by supporting biomedical research, the field we know best from both the academic and the translational points of view. Seminal discoveries emanating from basic biomedical research in the 1970s have radically transformed the field of medicine. Although the late-stage development of drugs and medical devices is extremely complex and capital intensive, the early discoveries on which subsequent work is based often can be made by small teams of gifted individuals. The high quality human capital within Greek academic institutions would be able to compete effectively on a global scale if they were provided with adequate resources. This is the reason we are supporting biomedical research in Greece. But we also believe that supporting and helping the development of outstanding scientific research teams, will have positive influence beyond biomedicine.
We are a small foundation with virtually no overhead. For the past several years our total overhead has been limited to 10-15% of our net revenues. Annually we raise, and, in turn, donate, several hundred thousand euros.
All of our funding comes from the members of the foundation and our friends – Greeks, Greek expatriates, and philhellenes working in the global biotechnology and biopharmaceutical sectors. We are a group of individuals with backgrounds in science, business, finance, academia, and small or large research-driven enterprises, who regularly donate on a personal basis the amounts that constitute our source of funding.
We have no affiliation with political parties, governments, or other for profit or not-for-profit institutions.