United States

Roy and Diana Vagelos Donate $175 Million to Columbia University

NEW YORK – On March 6, Columbia University announced that Roy and Diana Vagelos have generously donated $175 million to establish the Vagelos Institute for Biomedical Research Education. This institute will provide a platform for PhD students to explore the most innovative and potentially transformative concepts in biomedical science and promote the training of more physician-scientists capable of translating groundbreaking discoveries into revolutionary new approaches to patient care.

This gift will enable Columbia to develop a new academic model that fosters and expedites the intellectual daring necessary to achieve unprecedented breakthroughs in health science research. Supportive career paths, promising stability, and academic autonomy will be established to attract more students and junior faculty to this crucial endeavor. In the United States, PhD students, residents, fellows, and early-career physician-scientists who aspire to pursue a career in basic, translational, or clinical research often face significant financial challenges and professional uncertainty.

By directly addressing and mitigating these obstacles, the Vagelos gift aims to create an academic research environment that fosters bold experimentation and a sustained commitment to resolving longstanding medical issues. A central tenet of this program is reducing the disproportionate financial barriers that prevent historically marginalized groups from pursuing careers in science.

“The financial support extended to Columbia by Roy and Diana Vagelos has been exceptional, and their philanthropic values have provided exceptional leadership,” 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 immense impact in harnessing the power of science to transform clinical care, and I anticipate similar initiatives to be launched at other university medical schools. The rewards for this endeavor will be unparalleled progress in curing diseases and treating illnesses. It is an opportunity – and a responsibility – that we must embrace.”

The bulk of the donation, $125 million, will establish an endowment to revolutionize the prevailing approach to funding PhD students. This will enable trainees at Columbia to explore different interests at the outset of their careers with greater autonomy. The remaining $50 million of the donation will aid aspiring physician-scientists seeking to cultivate expertise in both fundamental biology and clinical medicine.

An external scientific advisory board comprised of seasoned scientists and experts in graduate biomedical education will oversee the development of these programs and the new graduate biomedical curriculum tracks. The board’s responsibility is to guarantee that Columbia University creates an optimal environment for nurturing the growth of scientists who will shape the future of medicine. The initial group of board members includes Enrique M. De La Cruz, PhD, of the Yale School of Medicine; Tracy Johnson, PhD, of UCLA; William Kaelin Jr., MD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; and Shirley M. Tilghman, PhD, of Princeton University.

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger expressed his gratitude by stating, “This exceptional generosity from Roy and Diana Vagelos further underscores their visionary commitment to education at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, which fittingly bears their name. It also continues their groundbreaking efforts to revitalize and fortify the future of science and medical education at Columbia and globally. We are immensely thankful for all of this and much more.”

Roy and Diana Vagelos have been pioneers in revitalizing and strengthening the future of science and medical education at Columbia and worldwide. Their transformative $250 million donation in 2017, together with scholarship support from numerous VP&S alumni, friends, and faculty, enabled Columbia’s medical school to become the first in the country to provide debt-free education to its students. Their leadership initiated a nationwide movement among medical schools to eliminate student debt. The medical school was renamed the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in recognition of their impact. This second transformative donation exemplifies the couple’s remarkable benevolence and their deeply-held values. It builds upon a shared lifetime of charitable and compassionate action, particularly in their efforts to advance science, medical education, and better healthcare for all.

“We are all aware that sustained scientific progress is the foundation for addressing our most pressing medical challenges,” stated Dr. Vagelos. “Diana and I recall the impact that financial assistance had on instilling confidence and creating a sense of freedom to pursue our passions during our formative years. We hope to offer this same level of freedom to others by removing the obstacles that confront researchers and trainee scientists. The larger the pool of talented researchers who are able to explore areas of discovery that capture their imagination, the greater the impact they will have in transforming medicine and enhancing health. We are honored to give back.”


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