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Greek American Roy Vagelos Gifts $175 Million to Columbia University

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Diana and Roy Vagelos with Katrina Armstrong (center), Chief Executive Officer of the Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Credit: Columbia University

Greek American Roy Vagelos and his wife Diana Vagelos have made a $175 million gift to Columbia University to create the Vagelos Institute for Biomedical Research Education.

Columbia University said the Institute will be home to PhD students pursuing the most creative, potentially disruptive ideas in biomedical science, and will spur the training of more physician-scientists able to translate the latest paradigm-shifting discoveries into revolutionary new methods in patient care.

“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. 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 transform the prevailing approach for funding PhD students.

This will provide Columbia trainees with 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.

Roy and Diana Vagelos strengthen science at Columbia and in the world

Roy and Diana Vagelos have been trailblazers in rethinking and strengthening the future of science and medical education at Columbia and around the world.

Together with scholarship support from countless VP&S alumni, friends, and faculty, their transformative $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.

Their leadership precipitated a national movement among medical schools to eliminate student debt. The medical school was renamed the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons as a tribute to their impact.

This second transformational gift reflects the couple’s remarkable generosity and their deeply held values. It builds on a shared lifetime of charitable and compassionate acts, particularly in their efforts to advance science, medical education, and better health care for all.

“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.”

Pindaros Roy Vagelos was born October 8, 1929, in Westfield, New Jersey to Greek immigrants. He was president and chief executive officer (1985) and chairman (1986) of the American pharmaceutical company Merck & Co.

Since 1995, Vagelos has served as chairman of the board of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

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