UNC Chapel Hill receives $100 million for pharmacy school

Largest gift in university history spurred by donor's frustration with public funding

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) this week received the largest gift ever given to a pharmacy school and the largest in the institution's history.

Alumnus Fred Eshelman donated $100 million to the eponymous pharmacy school. This gift—greater than the combined budgets of the UNC system's five smallest universities—comes on top of $38 million he has already given to the school. Eshelman earned his 1972 undergraduate degree at UNC-CH before continuing on to become a successful pharmaceutical entrepreneur.

UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt says the school will use the funds to create the Eshelman Institute for Innovation where research that could result in job creation and economic development will take place.

More than just training pharmacists for drugstores, the school also collaborates with the university's cancer center and medical school to research cures for complex diseases.

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"We’re setting up this institute where we really hope to supercharge the ability of faculty and graduate students and others to really get a leg up on their research ideas, get some form around them, push them forward with certain milestones," Eshelman says, "and hopefully get to the point where we can spin them out or commercialize them."

In the past ten years, 131 patents and about 15 spinoff companies have originated from the school, ranked second nationally in U.S. News & World Report's 2013 best graduate schools.

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Thanks to the gift, they are now "poised to compete nationally and internationally," says North Carolina Gov. Pat McCory, who suggested the state may now become the third vertex of a "research triangle" with Silicon Valley and the Northeast.

"[Eshelman] [is] an innovator, and he's deeply dedicated to his community," says Folt. "He wants to find solutions to great problems, ways to create jobs. He wants to save lives."

Frustration with government

In recent years, Eshelman's political giving has lessened in favor of direct gifts as a result of his frustration with budget cuts.

"This is a tough environment for additional state funding,” he told the crowd. “Therefore if we are in fact going to increase the pace to attain our goals, the private sector must make the investment like never before. It is one of the best investments we could possibly make for our children, our neighbors, our friends and our fellow citizens."

Eshelman also served on the UNC system's Board of Governors and contributed to an initiative designed to increase degree attainment rate, grow research, and make the system more efficient. However, Eshelman left the board this summer after being frustrated by the lack of state funding for public higher education (Stancill/Price, News Observer, 12/3).

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