A $50 million gift from Stewart and Judy Colton will accelerate the existing Colton Center for Autoimmunity at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine into an internationally leading center of autoimmune research and treatment with a dedicated space, powerful recruitment capabilities, scientific resources, and more. The Colton family’s generosity allows the Colton Center at Penn to continue driving collaborative, innovative autoimmune disease research with the center’s elite team of researchers and experts across immune health, data science, and artificial intelligence.
This gift builds on a $10 million gift from the Coltons, which established the Colton Center for Autoimmunity at Penn in the fall of 2021. The launch of the center united research and patient care programs across Penn—including Penn’s Institute for Immunology, one of the world’s largest single-institution immunology communities—to drive advances in autoimmune diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. The new gift will provide resources for the Colton Center at Penn to build a world-class home co-located with immune health, vaccinology, virology and viral immunity, SARS-CoV-2 research, fundamental immunology, and related areas to stimulate scientific collaboration and draw in multi-disciplinary investigators.
“The vision for the Colton Center is bold and boundless—it will be propelled not only by Penn’s own distinguished scientists, but through collaborations with researchers at other top institutions who are, together, committed to making a difference for those coping with autoimmune diseases,” said University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill. “We are strongest when we work as a team, and we are proud to have the faith and generosity of Stewart and Judy Colton to power us in these efforts.”
More than 23.5 million Americans are impacted by autoimmune diseases, in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells. These diseases—such as celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis—are more common in women than in men and are a leading cause of death and disability with annual health care costs exceeding $100 billion.
“Already the Colton Center has convened talent, set a vision, and launched a pilot grant program to support new and emerging ideas,” said J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and dean of the Perelman School of Medicine. “Now, the Colton Center at Penn is poised to bring even more transformation to the landscape of autoimmune disease and to the lives of those who suffer from it, with an accelerated pace of discovery.”
In addition to the creation of a physical space for collaboration, the center aims to become the leading nexus of autoimmune research, with the top scientific minds pursuing visionary projects together. Led by director E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics, the center’s faculty members are all at the vanguards of their fields and represent expertise in a broad range of autoimmune disease areas. With the Colton’s gift, the center will recruit new talent to help further the program’s scope and drive future progress.
Additional priorities for the center include further development of Penn’s Immune Health platform, provision of both internal and external grants to fund promising ideas in the field, initiation of adaptive clinical trials, and expansion of artificial intelligence and big data efforts to accelerate advances in the field.
Penn is pleased to join the first two centers in the Colton Consortium, New York University and Yale, as well as the more recent addition Tel Aviv University, each of which bring outstanding expertise and dedication to the effort’s shared mission. The goal of the Colton Consortium is to leverage complementary strengths at each institution to collectively elevate the field of autoimmunity.
“The Colton Center unites researchers, physicians, entrepreneurs, and more—not just across Penn but around the world—all focused on improving potential treatments and our understanding of autoimmunity,” Wherry said. “By embracing this collaboration, we can accomplish so much more than any one lab or site alone. Together, we make up a tremendous center of gravity for autoimmune research and innovation.”
In the coming years, Penn envisions multiple avenues of connection to the other centers, including retreats and scientific meetings, collaboration between leadership and faculty of the four centers, and the development of multiple scientific initiatives.
“Autoimmunity affects so many people and yet we still see gaps in knowledge and care options available to patients and families,” said philanthropists Judy and Stewart Colton, Wharton class of 1962. “Our goal is to improve that outlook. By investing in Penn and its scientific partners in the Colton Consortium, we hope to create an organized approach so we can work together to define the future of this important area of medicine.”