2014 Annual Report
2014 Leadership Message
This last year has been a very challenging one for ABMRF/The Foundation for Alcohol Research. Despite our individual and collective efforts, the Foundation has reached a juncture at which we must fundamentally change the activities of the Foundation and how it provides support for alcohol research. ABMRF was established in 1982 as a charitable foundation to fund research and promote scientific knowledge about the medical, behavioral and social science effects of alcohol beverages. For the last 32 years, the Foundation has operated in the U.S. and Canada, and recently in South Africa with continuous support from companies in the brewing industry. Earlier this year, the Foundation was advised that due to a shift in priorities, funding from the MillerCoors Company would terminate after the 2014 contributions. Similarly, Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) will taper its support to conclude at the end of 2015. Finally, Beer Canada (formerly the Brewers of Canada) announced that they will also terminate funding of ABMRF. As a result of a critical reduction in income, ABMRF is at a significant crossroad, despite its considerable strengths as a respected alcohol research funding organization.
In its three-plus decades, ABMRF supported research projects by more than 570 investigators in most every state of the U.S. and every province in Canada. Research data on a wide array of topics concerning the effects of alcohol helped build the base of knowledge to where it is today. There have been many achievements including the identification and support of the most promising investigators in alcohol research−including numerous grantee, Advisory Council and Board recipients of celebrated awards from the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA), such as the Distinguished Investigator Award ( 15), Young Investigator Award (17), the Jellinek Award (6), the Seixas Award (12), and the Lifetime Achievement Award (5). Furthermore, investigators funded by ABMRF obtained from the NIH huge multiples of the original ABMRF grants to further their investigations. For example, those investigators funded in 1997 alone have received more than $50 million after the period of ABMRF funding. This amount is more than the entire research budget of ABMRF over 30 years. Although the overall return on investment is difficult to calculate precisely, the return on investment (ROI) is much greater than 1000%. The results of the research were reported publicly in more than 2,350 publications. The number of high quality applications that we continue to receive each year indicates that the level of need and the opportunity to support high quality research remains substantial.
The Foundation has worked hard to increase support from organizations and individuals, both inside and outside of the brewing industry and to develop an endowment. These efforts have been conducted in good faith over the last 20 years with increased effort during the last 8 years. On several occasions, most recently in 2012-14, the Foundation substantially reduced administrative expenses that included eliminating staff positions, shifting from biannual to annual review of grant applications, reducing meeting and conference attendance at IMAG and other meetings, and moving to a virtual office configuration to eliminate rent. The past 36 months have been devoted to capital campaign efforts while concurrently working to increase our annual contributions from smaller brewers and affiliated industries in the U.S. ABMRF successfully achieved campaign support from current and former members of the Board and Councils, former grantees, plus additional annual support by craft brewers, wholesalers of malt beverages, and private individuals, mostly seeking to memorialize a loved one. We also obtained funding for new programs in South Africa. However, the success from these efforts is insufficient to cover the anticipated deficit that we are facing.
The Board has considered carefully both short-term and long-term plans. The Foundation currently has sufficient reserve funds to ensure that it will remain an independent charitable foundation and will be able to honor current commitments to its grantees: The amounts of the grants recommended by the Councils and approved by the Board in 2014 have been paid in full and thanks to continued support in 2015 from AB InBev, the second year of funding for the grants approved in April will be paid.
Going forward, the Foundation will continue its original purpose and mission to support alcohol research although it will not be able to support an investigator-initiated grants program in the near future. The Board has considered options that are consistent with this mission, each with its own merits and limitations. One option is to solicit financial support from the broader public. If this option is selected, the size and composition of the Board and leadership of the Foundation will need to be addressed. Our public members, including many scientists working in alcohol studies provide both informed leadership and assurance that funds are used for research that is important to society. An active development campaign would require future leaders to have the skills and time to devote to fund-raising and future Board members to participate actively in soliciting contributions to support the activities of the Foundation. Other options include awarding prizes to recognize significant promise for the field of alcohol research among young investigators or the past contributions of more senior scientists.
The Board of Trustees will carefully determine the best option that would preserve the identity and integrity of the Foundation that has been achieved over the last 32 years. By separating the source of funding from the review of applications and the conduct of research, ABMRF provided the only effective model of funding alcohol research by the brewing industry that avoided real and perceived conflicts of interest. Throughout this entire period of time, representatives of the brewing industry respected the autonomy of the Board and its Advisory Councils to decide both the merits of individual applications and the research questions that were addressed by ABMRF grantees. Founders Dr. Thomas B. Turner, Mr. Thomas Austern and Mr. Henry B. King, and others whose wisdom, good faith and hard work created this model organization, should be proud. With the highly valued support of the large brewer members of the Beer Institute, as well as Beer Canada, the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA), and the craft-affiliated Brewers Association (BA), this model Foundation funded the research ideas of individual scientists at more than 260 institutions throughout North America and South Africa and helped countless young investigators launch successful careers dedicated to improving our understanding of the effects of alcoholic beverages on health and behavior.
Although we recognize the past contributions of the brewing industry without which ABMRF would not exist, it is now time for the Foundation to begin a new chapter and move forward to continue its support of alcohol research without any specific ties to an industry for its funding.
Bruce M. Ambler, M.B.A.
Chairman, Board of Trustees
Mack C. Mitchell, Jr., M.D.