The Arvin Gottlieb Charitable Foundation makes breakthroughs possible

Arvin Gottlieb Charitable Foundation Trustee Barton Cohen, MBA (Image credit: Matthew Ellenbogen, LJI Creative Producer)
Arvin Gottlieb Charitable Foundation Trustee Barton Cohen, MBA (Image credit: Matthew Ellenbogen, LJI Creative Producer)

When Missouri business leader Arvin Gottlieb passed away, he left generous funding—and a group of dedicated friends—to support causes close to his heart.

“Arvin and I were very close friends,” says Barton Cohen, MBA, a trustee of the Arvin Gottlieb Charitable Foundation. “We had a serendipitous meeting in the early 1980s and became tight friends, and eventually even became business partners.”

Sadly, Gottlieb suffered from a congenital heart condition that necessitated a heart transplant. Gottlieb’s body rejected the first transplant, and then a second transplant. As he got sicker, Gottlieb made his wishes clear: He wanted his financial success to benefit the arts, the sciences, and health and human services efforts for years to come. He passed away in 1992, but his legacy lives on through the generosity of the Arvin Gottlieb Charitable Foundation.

Cohen and his fellow trustees have grown the foundation through prudent investment, and they’ve worked to identify important philanthropic causes. Their projects include funding the construction of the world-class Arvin Gottlieb Planetarium in Kansas City, Missouri, and establishing the Arvin Gottlieb Endowed Chair for Advanced Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplant at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute.

The Arvin Gottlieb Charitable Foundation first began supporting La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) with donations toward heart disease research at the Institute. In 2020, Cohen, a former LJI Board Member, learned of LJI scientists working around the clock to study COVID-19 and the body’s response to SARS-CoV-2. To accelerate this research, the scientists needed a laboratory with special safeguards against viral contamination—they needed a Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) laboratory. The Arvin Gottlieb Charitable Foundation wanted to give it to them.

“We understood that LJI scientists were working on the outer frontier of immunology, in a very good sense.”

Arvin Gottlieb Charitable Foundation Trustee Barton Cohen, MBA

With philanthropic support from the Arvin Gottlieb Charitable Foundation, the GHR Foundation, the London Stock Exchange Foundation, and individual donors, LJI opened the Infectious Disease Exploration and Abatement (IDEA) Facility just one year later. This BSL-3 facility has already proven incredibly valuable for LJI scientists. 

In January 2024, Cohen visited the Institute and toured the BSL-3 facility while it was closed for its annual recertification. While there, he met with researchers who rely on the facility. The researchers had some news for Cohen—they were about to publish an exciting T cell discovery. They had uncovered the first direct evidence that T cells that fight common-cold coronaviruses can “cross-react” to the closely related SARS-CoV-2 virus. This research is an encouraging step toward devising a “pan-coronavirus” vaccine that trains T cells to protect the body from many kinds of coronaviruses. [Read article: Common cold or COVID-19? Some T cells are ready to combat both]

Cohen calls the development “heartwarming.” He says the Arvin Gottlieb Charitable Foundation continues to support LJI because of the unique projects led by scientists who use the BSL-3. “Important research is being done in that facility,” says Cohen. “We feel like—from a foundation standpoint—that we’re making a significant contribution to science.”

The Arvin Gottlieb Charitable Foundation has doubled down on its support, providing a new multiyear grant to support the operations of this critical facility for the next several years. The BSL-3 will support investigations into a variety of contagious zoonotic pathogens, including chikungunya virus, Japanese encephalitis virus, and Powassan virus.