Vagelos Institute for Biomedical Research Education

Roy and Diana Vagelos

A $175 million gift from Roy’54 and Diana Vagelos will create the Vagelos Institute for Biomedical Research Education to support PhD students pursuing the most creative, potentially disruptive ideas in biomedical science and also encourage the training of more physician-scientists. The gift is intended to address obstacles that discourage PhD students, physicians in training, residents, fellows, and early-career physician-scientists from pursuing careers in basic, translational, or clinical research.

The gift will enable Columbia to create a new academic model and research environment that are conducive to bold experimentation and a sustained commitment to solving longstanding medical problems. The initiative will include efforts to reduce the disproportionate financial burdens that deter historically marginalized groups from pursuing careers in science.

“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 medical schools,” says Katrina Armstrong, MD, dean of VP&S. “The reward for this effort will be unprecedented strides forward in curing disease and treating illness. It’s an opportunity— and a responsibility—we must embrace.”

The largest portion of the gift—$125 million—will establish an endowment to change the prevailing approach for funding PhD students, giving them greater freedom to explore different interests at the start of their careers. The remaining $50 million of the gift will support aspiring physician-scientists seeking to develop expertise in both fundamental biology and clinical medicine.

An external advisory board of scientists and experts in graduate biomedical education will guide the development of the programs and new graduate biomedical curriculum tracks. The board is tasked with ensuring that Columbia creates the optimal environment to nurture the growth of scientists who will shape the future of medicine. The initial board members are 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.

“We all know that continued scientific progress is the foundation for solving our most pressing medical problems,” says 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.”

The latest gift reinforces Dr. and Mrs. Vagelos as trailblazers in rethinking and strengthening the future of science and medical education at Columbia and elsewhere. Their 2017 $250 million gift, when combined with support from other VP&S alumni, faculty, and friends of the school, made it possible for Columbia to become the first medical school in the nation to offer students debt-free education. A previous gift from Dr. and Mrs. Vagelos had an impact on precision medicine, and their $53 million gift led the capital campaign for the Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center, which opened in 2016.