Huge gift is largest donation to UCSF

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San Francisco Chronicle
Reported by Victoria Colliver

Former Citigroup head Sanford “Sandy” Weill and his wife, Joan, have given $185 million to UCSF — the single largest gift the university has received — to create an institute to accelerate research and the development of new therapies in neuroscience, including brain disorders from neurodegenerative diseases to psychiatric conditions.

The gift, formally announced late Monday, will create the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences and fund the construction of a 270,000-square-foot building at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus that will serve as its headquarters. More immediately, it will allow UCSF to hire additional researchers and encourage collaboration across disciplines that study and treat conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, to autism, schizophrenia and depression.

“We have a chance here to break down the silos between all the different departments and really look holistically at the brain,” said Weill, referring to the traditional separations in medicine between mental health and other neurological diseases. “Our gift unites psychiatry with all the other neurosciences departments.”

The donation, one of the largest in the country for the scientific field, helped raise the amount UCSF has received from philanthropy for neuroscience alone to more than $500 million since last April. About half of all donations UCSF has received during the period have been devoted to neuroscience, including a $177 million donation in November from billionaire Charles F. “Chuck” Feeney.

“UCSF has historically had very strong foundational building blocks across the breadth of neuroscience — neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatry, and basic neuroscience,” UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood said in a statement. “The Weill Family Foundation and the Weills’ gift to establish the Weill Institute will enable us to fully integrate our program and allow us to think in a seamless way across the continuum of neuroscience.”

Weill, 83, who splits his time between the East Coast and a home on 360 acres in Sonoma County since retiring from a 50-year career in banking, has long been involved in philanthropy with a strong focus on health. He and his wife were among the first to sign up in 2010 for the Giving Pledge, a campaign led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to encourage the wealthiest individuals to dedicate the majority of their net worth to charitable giving.

Weill has given more than $1 billion to educational, medical, cultural and arts institutions over the past 40 years. Cornell University, Weill’s alma mater, renamed its medical school Weill Cornell Medical College after generous donations. Weill also serves as chairman of the executive council of UCSF Health, the university’s network of providers.

“Philanthropy is not just about giving money,” he said. “It’s about contributing your passion, your knowledge, the knowledge you have in managing something that’s different than what a researcher or professor would have and blending those things together.”

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