Moritz, Heyman back biomedical research.
Sequoia Capital Chairman Sir Michael Moritz, KBE, and his wife, Harriet Heyman, in collaboration with UC San Francisco, have kicked off a new endowment with a $60 million contribution to ensure the future of Ph.D. education programs in the basic sciences.
The gift is being made in recognition of the critical role doctoral students play in fueling biomedical research and is the largest endowed program for Ph.D. students in the history of the 10-campus University of California.
The UCSF Discovery Fellows Program will fund UCSF’s basic science Ph.D. programs, such as cell biology, biochemistry and neuroscience, which consistently rank among the top biomedical research doctoral programs in the United States. Researchers at UCSF rely on graduate students to bring energy, ideas and new collaborations to their labs, and students are key to recruiting top-flight faculty.
The couple has given $30 million, which UCSF has matched with $25 million of institutional funds and a commitment to raise an additional $5 million from at least 500 donors. The fundraising challenge is intended to instill a new culture of private giving to fund graduate education, so the university can expand its endowment.
“Graduate students in the life sciences play a vital role in faculty research and innovation and bring curiosity and new ideas to the laboratories where they work,” said UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, M.D., M.P.H.
“With the freedom to work in multiple labs and across disciplines, they make discoveries at the intersections of research, fostering collaborations as unlikely as they are productive,” she said. “Many of these students work in the labs that are exploring new approaches to understanding cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and more. Their novel perspectives and unbridled curiosity give rise to powerful questions that can alter a lab’s entire course of research. We are deeply grateful to Michael and Harriet for this gift.”
Major research universities like UCSF typically cover the cost of tuition and living expenses for their basic science Ph.D. students. But this model has become more difficult over the past decade as state funding for higher education has dwindled and federal funding from the National Institutes of Health has stayed mostly flat.
While the funding to cover students comes from many university sources, UCSF faculty are under increasing pressure to use their federal research grants to support these costs. The endowment will relieve these pressures.
“We’ve given to educational institutions where there’s an emphasis on excellence, government support has evaporated and there is an urgent need to ensure that smart souls don’t have financial hurdles that prevent them from conducting great work,” said Moritz. “You can’t live in San Francisco without being aware of the role that UCSF plays in the community, and everyone in Silicon Valley knows the debt that the entire biotechnology industry owes to UCSF.”
UCSF biochemist Herbert Boyer and Stanford’s Stanley Cohen jointly discovered how to create recombinant DNA, which involves splicing genes from one organism into another. Boyer went on to co-found Genentech Inc., which launched the biotechnology industry, pioneering the use of these techniques to create powerful new drugs.
Moritz, who is chairman of Sequoia Capital in Menlo Park, said he and Heyman chose to give to UCSF’s basic science programs because of their enormous potential for future payoffs. Heyman is an author and a former editor at The New York Times who has written for numerous publications. She also serves as a volunteer in a lab at UCSF.