Roy and Diana's Biographies
P. Roy Vagelos, MD
Dr. Vagelos received his AB degree in 1950 from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, the academic honor society. He received his MD from Columbia University in 1954 and was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha, the medical honor society. From 1954 to 1956, he completed his internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. From 1956 through 1966, he served at the National Heart Institute, in Bethesda, Maryland, holding positions in cellular physiology and biochemistry, first as senior surgeon and then as head of Section of Comparative Biochemistry, both in the Laboratory of Biochemistry. It was during this time that he started his fundamental research on lipid metabolism and discovered the acyl carrier protein (ACP), a key factor in this process. In 1966, Dr. Vagelos joined Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, as chairman of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics of the School of Medicine, where he founded and became director of the University’s Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences. In so doing, he established an unprecedented model for the fusion of a medical school with an undergraduate department of biology, a model that many other universities would soon emulate. Dr. Vagelos joined Merck in 1975 as senior vice president of research and became president of its research division in 1976. From 1984 until 1994, Dr. Vagelos served as chief executive officer of Merck & Co., Inc. At Merck, Dr. Vagelos led the effort to ensure that Mectizan, an anti-parasitic medication that prevents and treats river blindness, would be provided free around the world—saving the sight of hundreds of millions of people. Dr. Vagelos served on the Board of Trustees at the University of Pennsylvania from 1988 until 1999, acting as its chair from 1995 to 1999 and chair of the Executive and Nominating Committees, as well as a member of the undergraduate financial aid committee and the Agenda for Excellence Council. Upon his retirement from the Board, he was named Trustee Emeritus. He is currently chair of the Board of Advisors of Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, and chairman of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
Dr. Vagelos is the author of more than 100 scientific papers and an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as the National Academy of Medicine, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and American Philosophical Society. For his seminal work on ACP and leadership of Merck, Dr. Vagelos was awarded the American Chemical Society’s Enzyme Chemistry Award in 1967 and the National Academy of Sciences’ Chemistry in Service to Society Award in 1995. He also was inducted into the National Business Hall of Fame in 1995. In 1998, the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences bestowed upon him its Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of his lifetime achievements in the sciences and humanities, and in 1999 he was honored by the Franklin Institute with the Bower Award for Business Leadership for his role in eradicating river blindness.
A philanthropist, community leader, and tireless champion of women’s causes at Columbia, Diana Vagelos has provided support for organizations in higher education, culture, the life sciences, and the arts.
Diana serves as an active Barnard alumna, vice chair of the Barnard Board of Trustees, and a member of Columbia’s Women’s Health Care Council. In 2021, VP&S established the Diana Vagelos Professorship of Women’s Mental Health in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology to honor Diana for her generosity, leadership, and advocacy for women’s health programs.
In addition, at Barnard, The Diana Center, a hub of student life completed in 2010 and beloved by the Barnard community, is named in her honor. It serves as a nexus for social, cultural, and intellectual life for students at the college and recognizes Roy and Diana’s philanthropic impact.
Beyond Diana’s leadership at Columbia and Barnard, she is also actively involved in organizations such as the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and University of Pennsylvania.