The Scripps Research Institute, one of the world’s top biomedical centers, will receive tens of millions of dollars to support students in its graduate program, the institute announced Tuesday. The huge donation comes from foundations established by the Skaggs family, longtime institute benefactors.
With the money, La Jolla-based Scripps Research says it will be able to increase its support of the next generation of researchers, some of whom wind up as Scripps faculty.
The institute is renowned for its research that has led to developing new therapies for immune disorders and other diseases, and even reworking the genetic code of life itself.
The exact amount of the funding has yet to be determined. The gift is coming from more than one foundation, and the leadership is deciding how the funds will be allocated over a five-year period.
Scripps Research is conducting a $100 million campaign to endow fellowships for all students in its graduate program. In honor of the gift, the graduate program will be renamed the Skaggs Graduate School of Chemical and Biological Sciences.
Scripps Research is a powerhouse in chemical biology that has spawned numerous biomedical companies. Last year, it was rated first in the world for its “influence on innovation” by the prestigious scientific publication Nature.
Its research has yielded blockbuster drugs such as Humira for rheumatoid arthritis, along with spinoff companies such as Receptos, purchased in 2015 by Celgene for $7.3 billion.Another spinoff, Synthorx, is using a bacterium with partly synthetic DNA to develop drugs for cancer and other diseases.
Scripps Research is also noted for its programs in viral diseases, including HIV, influenza and hemorrhagic fever viruses such as Ebola.
The graduate program helps beginning scientists explore bold ideas and concepts that go beyond commonly accepted beliefs, said Phil Dawson, dean of Scripp’s Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, who himself took the program.
“It was a unique graduate program that had grown sort of out of a desire of the faculty to train the next generation of scientists in the interface between chemistry and biology,” Dawson said.
Numerous program graduates have gone on to productive careers, Dawson said, including some who became Scripps faculty. Among them are chemists Phil Baran and Ben Cravatt, and structural biologist Erica Ollmann Saphire, an expert on Ebola.
The institute held its 25th graduate commencement last year, with a speech by Gerald Chan, a biomedical billionaire and Scripps board member.
Members of the Skaggs family have donated large sums to Scripps Research and other local biomedical centers over the years. In 1996, food and drugstore pioneer L.S. “Sam” Skaggs and his wife, Aline, gave $100 million, creating The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology.
Other local beneficiaries of the Skaggs include UC San Diego, which received $30 million in 2004 for the university’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Sam Skaggs died in 2013, followed by his wife in 2015. Their children and grandchildren have continued their involvement with Scripps Research. Their son Mark Skaggs has served on the board of directors. Daughter Claudia Skaggs Luttrell is a current board member.
In addition to her family’s gift to the endowment campaign, Skaggs Luttrell made a personal donation, as did her adult children, Dallas and Jennifer.