Dr. & Mrs. P. Roy Vagelos Donate $250 Million to Columbia Medical School

Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and his wife, Diana. (Photo by TNH/Costas Bej)

NEW YORK – Greek-American Dr. P. Roy Vagelos, 88, the former chairman of Merck & Co., and his wife, Diana, are donating $250 million to the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, one of the top medical schools and also among the most expensive in the country.

$150 million of the amount will fund an endowment that the school projects will ultimately enable it to underwrite its student financial aid, The New York Times reported.

Tuition at the school for one year is $59,364. Add in fees and living expenses, and the total is about $90,000 per year for four years. But “while some medical students now take on crippling debt to attend, a new endowment funded by one of the school’s most successful alumni is intended to eliminate the need for student loans for all of its future medical students, the school announced Monday night”, NYT says.

With the gift, which is in addition to some $60 million already donated by the couple, the medical school will be officially renamed the Columbia University Roy and Diana Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, the president of Columbia, Lee C. Bollinger, announced on Monday evening.

Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana Vagelos have a simple philosophy that governs their philanthropic generosity,the pure notion of “giving back,” The National Herald reported last year.

“We spontaneously without any plans decided that our contributions will be to those organizations that supported us – the University of Pennsylvania, Barnard College, and Columbia University,” Dr. Vagelos has said to TNH and in that sense, without having been conscious of it, he did what his parents did by supporting the school in his father’s home town of Erisos in Mytilene.

Vagelos expressed at the time the deep pride in the Hellenes around the world who are top scientists in all fields. “The sad thing is they all leave Greece,” he said. “There are two reasons for that, a lack of support, and second, the system is not entirely straightforward. It’s very hard for someone to succeed on the basis of performance. It’s infested with nepotism. Greek-Americans and Greek immigrants who come to America for training are not welcome…they are threatening.”

Dr. Vagelos is both a business leader and a leading scientist, attracting researchers to Merck who developed major new drugs, and writing more than 100 scientific papers.

The one commercial relationship Vagelos continues is with the top biotech company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, where he is Chairman of the Board. He said of its Chief Scientific officer George Yancopoulos, “He is quite a genius at what he does. He’s a wonderful scientist and human being and we have been working together since I have retired from Merck. I am very close him and the CEO, Lenard Schleifer, and I Iike working with the two of them. They are on their way to becoming a significant biomedical institution.”