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$175M gift will fund new biomedical research institute at Columbia U

Columbia University has received a $175 million gift from Roy and Diana Vagelos to establish The Vagelos Institute for Biomedical Research Education. The institute will be home to PhD students pursuing breakthroughs in biomedical science while also providing training to more physician-scientists able to translate discoveries into new methods in patient care.  

Roy Vagelos is a physician who earned his medical degree from Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons – where he has also been a major benefactor — and who later became CEO of pharma giant Merck. The large gift will enable Columbia to create a new academic model that encourages and accelerates the intellectual risk-taking needed to make historic advances in health science research. Supportive career pathways, promising stability and academic freedom, are being developed to attract more students and junior faculty to the institute.

The idea is to offer a way to remove the financial challenges and professional uncertainty that often come with an early-career scientist’s or physician’s decision to pursue a career in basic, translational, or clinical research.

By directly addressing and mitigating these obstacles, the Vagelos gift seeks to create a research environment suited to bold experimentation. Reducing the disproportionate financial burdens that deter historically marginalized groups from pursuing a career in science is a central pillar of this program.

The lion’s share of the gift — $125 million — will establish an endowment to transform the prevailing approach for funding PhD students, providing Columbia trainees with greater freedom to explore their research interests. The remaining $50 million of the gift will support aspiring physician-scientists seeking to develop expertise in both fundamental biology and clinical medicine.

“This extraordinary generosity from Roy and Diana Vagelos continues their visionary support of education at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, which so appropriately bears their name,” said Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger. “It also continues their trailblazing efforts to rethink and strengthen the future of science and medical education at Columbia and around the world. For all of this, and so much more, we are extremely grateful.”

Roy and Diana Vagelos have been trailblazers in rethinking and strengthening the future of science and medical education. Their $250 million gift in 2017 made it possible for Columbia’s medical school to become the first in the nation to offer debt-free education to students.

“The financial support provided by Roy and Diana Vagelos to Columbia has been extraordinary, and so too is the leadership they provide through the values embodied in their philanthropy,” said Katrina Armstrong, Dean of the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, and EVP for Health and Biomedical Sciences. “The Vagelos Institute for Biomedical Research Education will have an enormous impact in harnessing the power of science to transform clinical care, and I believe we will see similar initiatives started at other university medical schools.”

“We all know that continued scientific progress is the foundation for solving our most pressing medical problems,” said Dr. Vagelos. “Diana and I each vividly recall the difference that financial support made in creating a sense of freedom and instilling the confidence to pursue our passions early in our lives. We want to give others this same freedom by removing the obstacles facing researchers and scientists in training. The larger the number of talented researchers who are able to explore areas of discovery that capture their imaginations, the greater the impact they will have in changing medicine and improving health. It is our honor to give back.”

Source: Columbia University

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