UC San Francisco gains $185M neuroscience research gift

Golden Gate Bridge

In the largest ever gift to the University of California, San Francisco, the Weill Family Foundation and Joan and Sanford Weill have donated $185 million to establish the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences.

In what the foundation calls an “ambitious effort,” the new cash boost is designed to speed up the development of new drug therapies for diseases affecting the brain and nervous system, including psychiatric disorders.

The gift is one of the largest ever made to support the neurosciences in the U.S., according to its statement, and raises philanthropic commitments to UCSF’s neuroscience programs in the last year to more than $500 million.

The grant will provide the lead investment for the construction of a new 270,000-square-foot building at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus--which will now serve as the Weill Institute for Neurosciences HQ. The new building will house new research labs as well as clinics for patients with brain and nervous system disorders.

In addition, a new “UCSF Weill Innovation Fund” will provide support for high-risk, high-reward research projects aimed at finding new treatments for neurological and psychiatric illnesses. It plans to do this by offering UCSF neuroscientists the “freedom and flexibility to advance their most innovative research goals”, according to the University.

This new gift to UCSF reflects “an area of health care that is near and dear to our hearts,” said Joan Weill.

“It’s an opportunity to better connect the bench and the bedside to make a bigger impact in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, ALS and Parkinson’s--as well as multiple sclerosis and other diseases.

“In addition, by bringing basic research in psychiatry into the fold of the neurosciences, we can help advance our understanding of mental illness, and help remove stigmas associated with mental health, so that they can be treated like any other disease of the body.”

Sandy Weill added: “Given budget constraints at the local, state and federal levels, it is no secret that governments will not have the ability to fund all that is needed in biomedical research and beyond.

“Individuals, foundations and companies must step up to the plate to help fill this void to create public/private partnerships to enhance education, medical research, and culture. This, we believe, will be the new paradigm in philanthropy for the future.”

It’s been something of a positive month for neuroscience R&D. Just this week, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine received a $3.6 million NIH grant to investigate the potential cause of Alzheimer's disease.

And AstraZeneca ($AZN), alongside research partner Eli Lilly ($LLY), announced in early April that they would be moving their closely watched Alzheimer’s candidate, the BACE inhibitor AZD3293, into late-stage trials after it aced a safety test.

This comes after a series of late-stage flops for pharma in dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, with a number of drugmakers backing away from the area--leaving governmental and charitable groups to step up their efforts in this complex research area.  

- check out the release
- read the AECM grant statement