Sanford Weill Gives $185M To Expand Neuroscience Research at UCSF

Xconomy San Francisco — 

With the largest philanthropic gift ever to the University of California, San Francisco, controversial Wall Street titan Sanford “Sandy” Weill and his wife Joan will put their stamp on neurosciences work at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus.

The $185 million gift from the Weill Family Foundation will help build a 270,000 square-foot research center, which has been in the works for some time. The UC Regents, who oversee the state’s premier academic system, approved the building’s plans last month.

The research center will be located on the site of a current parking lot (pictured above) in the midst of UCSF’s burgeoning new bayfront campus, and across the street from the Golden State Warriors’ proposed basketball arena and office complex. UCSF neurology department chair Stephen Hauser will be the Weill Institute’s director.

Announced late Monday, the Weill donation tops the $177 million pledged by Charles Feeney last year that established the Global Brain Health Institute at UCSF. That institute will be housed at the newly named Weill Neurosciences Center, along with basic science labs and other programs. One goal of the new building is to create space for basic psychiatric research to take place next to other neuroscience research. Helping a diversity of researchers rub elbows is an acknowledgement of the growing interdisciplinary connections between physical biology and mental health disorders.

Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, by and large have confounded efforts to develop effective pharmaceutical treatments. For mental health disorders, the frustration has helped drive development of other types of interventions, such as digital therapy programs.

Weill has also given to his alma mater Cornell University’s medical school and Sonoma State University, about an hour north of San Francisco, where he and his wife have a wine country estate.

Weill told the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday that groundbreaking for the neuroscience center could come in the spring of 2017. Weill also told the Chronicle that his mother died of Alzheimer’s disease and father suffered from depression.

“In medical science over the last two decades, we’ve made tremendous progress in research in children’s diseases, great progress in cardiovascular diseases as well as cancer,” Weill said. “Yet it wasn’t until recently that the brain was very, very hard to analyze because the only time people got to look at the brain was after people were dead. Now with new technologies and types of surgery, we really get to see a lot of what’s happening in the brain.”

Weill, a New York City native, was the CEO of financial firm Travelers Group in the 1990s. In 1998, its merger with Citicorp, helped by the repeal of financial antitrust laws, created the massive conglomerate Citigroup. (Weill was instrumental in pushing the repeal through Congress.) Citigroup then became one of the key “too big to fail” players in the global financial crisis of the following decade, placing among the top ten on the list of financial institutions receiving government bailouts.

Weill was gone by the time the crisis hit. He was CEO of Citigroup until 2003 and chairman until 2006. In 2012 he told CNBC that giant banks should not be allowed to own both regular banking and investment banking businesses, essentially calling for a return to the law whose repeal allowed the practices that led to the global meltdown.

Photo courtesy of A Name Like Shields Can Make You Defensive via Creative Commons.