Glaser is director for medical science at the Lucille P. Markey Charitable Trust, formed after the 1982 death of the owner of Calumet Farms, the Kentucky thorough-bred racing and breeding stable. She stipulated that within 15 years the Miami-based foundation must exhaust its endowment, expected to reach nearly $400 million, in support of basic medical research.
Last month the trust announced its largest round of grants. Eleven universities will receive $75 million over the next five years for new research programs, staff, major facilities and related activities. The University of California at San Francisco topped the list, with $13.7 million to reorganize its research and teaching programs to encourage interdisciplinary work in biology. $12.1 million each went to Yale University, for support of a program in molecular oncology and development, and Washington University, for a new center on the molecular biology of human disease. The trust also provides support for a growing network of postdoctoral and junior faculty fellows.
The unique terms of Markey will lead Glaser, a past dean of the Stanford University medical school, to forsake retirement in 1984, after 12 years as president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, to run the trust’s research program. “It was a chance to work in fundamental science for a new foundation, with an interested board and a good deal of money to spend,” he explained. “How could I say no?”
The sole scientist in the office the he maintains outside San Francisco, Glaser relies on the advice of a relatively small group of senior scientists, some of whom are affiliated with programs that the trust supports, to judge the quality and importance of the work for which funds have been requested. He also bases his judgments on a lifetime in the field.
“In 1971, when he was at the Commonwealth Trust, he helped us start an accelerated M.D. program for Ph.D.s,” recalled William Whelan, chairman of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Miami medical school, which received $6.2 million from the Markey trust. “Two years ago the Markey people came to a symposium we put on that featured work in a number of areas, and they encouraged us to focus on molecular biology.
"The application process itself seemed remarkably easy and rapid,” Whelan said. “We finished our proposal in October, and got word in December.”
“We knew about the trust because some of our senior faculty are Markey advisers,” explained Daniel Hartl, chairman of the genetics department at Washington University medical school. “And Glaser is on the board of trustees of the university.”
One unique feature of the Washington University award is a competitive grants program within the university to provide seed money for faculty seeking outside funds. “Preliminary data that show funding agencies you can do what you say you want to do have become vital," Hartl explained.
At UCLA, which received millions to strengthen its program in cellular biochemistry, a notice that the trust would entertain no more than one application per university set off fierce competition among departments. The winning proposal is meant to “increase the visibility of our program, to go from very good to excellent,” recalled biochemist James Paulson. In addition to adding faculty, renovating facilities and purchasing major equipment, UCLA hopes to draw attention to its program by attracting dozens of nationally known scientists to a series of symposia, lectures and retreats.
The application process was simple, Paulson recalled: a blank sheet of paper. And unlike a previous grant application to another foundation that was rewritten to be understandable to laypersons, he said, “we were able to communicate at the highest level. It was clear we were talking to scientists.”
Glaser expects the bulk of the large research grants to be made in the next five years, so that trustees can complete their work before going out of business in 1997. And he doesn’t apologize for the fact that the grants aren’t for everybody.
Maybe we are rewarding the rich,” he said in response to one question. “But I prefer to see it as finding ways to help top-notch people address important problems. Most of our recipients would get [moneyl eventually, but not so quickly and in sufficient amounts to really make a difference."
For more information, contact the Lucille
P. Markey Charitable Trust, 525
Middlefield Rd., Suite 130 Menlo Park,
CA 94025; (415) 223-6700.
Mervis is on the staff of THE SCIENTIST.
- (The Scientist, Vol:2, #2, p.4, January 25, 1988)
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- (Copyright © The Scientist, Inc.)
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