UNC-Chapel Hill Eshelman School of Pharmacy receives $100 million commitment

After improvising a drum roll by tapping her knuckles on the podium, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol L. Folt on Wednesday announced the largest individual commitment in the University’s history – a $100 million gift from alumnus Fred Eshelman to the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

“That’s the way to fill the tent!” she said to the audience gathered on the lawn in front of Kerr Hall as they clapped and rose to give Eshelman a standing ovation.

Eshelman, a 1972 graduate of the school, is the founder and former CEO of Pharmaceutical Product Development and founding chairman of Furiex Pharmaceuticals. The school was named for Eshelman in 2008.

The $100 million gift will be used to create the Eshelman Institute for Innovation, a center within the school that will help fuel innovation, create jobs and spur economic development in the state, while enabling the school to pursue new ways to enhance its position as a national and international leader.

“We and all great universities must stay relevant and valuable to society by changing with the times, by innovating — being leaders in that — and by building communities that are crucibles of creativity,” Folt said.

Said Eshelman: “As you know, this is a tough environment for additional state funding, and therefore if we are going to increase the pace to attain our goals, the private sector must make the investment like never before.

“As part of the institute, we must help in the translation of ideas and research into products, into services and into tools that will be good and useful for our citizens, and we must also help to give a more direct return to the taxpayers of this state.”

While Eshelman’s gift is directed to one school, other speakers at the event emphasized how it will also benefit the people of the state of North Carolina and beyond.

“My goal is for North Carolina to become the third vertex of what we call the nation’s Innovation Triangle,” the other two being Silicon Valley and Boston/New York, said Gov. Pat McCrory. “We are poised to compete nationally and internationally.”

After congratulating the governor on choosing the right color tie for the occasion, UNC President Tom Ross praised Dean Robert Blouin for leading the “best pharmacy school in the nation.” The audience, which included many pharmacy faculty and students, burst into spontaneous applause.

Ross said he realized that UNC’s school is actually ranked second after the University of California at San Francisco. “But I only have one thing to say to them,” he said. “They better watch out.”

Blouin reminisced about the first time he met Eshelman; it was in his original office at in a “magnificent 35-year-old double-wide trailer.”

“The first thing he probably thought was that $20 million doesn’t buy what it used to,” he said in reference to an earlier donation that put Eshelman’s name on the school.

As for the $100 million commitment, he added, “this is a gift that will transcend this university and will be recognized by our profession as a gift of confidence for pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences across the globe.”

The audience stood again as Eshelman approached the podium. He downplayed the generosity he had been praised for.

“I feel so fortunate to be in a position to be able to help the University,” he said. “I’ve been very lucky. I’d rather be lucky than good.”

Eshelman praised the current UNC-Chapel Hill leadership, and, like a true pharmacist, concluded that they make up “the prescription for success.”

Eshelman previously donated $38 million to the school, including $3 million to support the school’s drug-discovery center (2014); $2.5 million for pharmacy education, pharmacy practice, research and training (2012); $9 million for cancer research (2008); and $20 million for scholarships, fellowships, faculty development in teaching and research, partnership development with community pharmacists, and residency programs (2003). There are currently five Eshelman Distinguished Professors at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

The UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy is second among the nation’s pharmacy schools in total federal research funding and specifically in National Institutes of Health funding. Its doctor of pharmacy program also ranked number two in U.S. News & World Report’s 2013 edition of America’s Best Graduate Schools. In the past 10 years, the school has generated more than 130 patents and created 15 spin-off companies.

The UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy has a history of driving innovation through unique interactions between academia and industry, producing 19 spin-off companies in the history of the school, most recently Meryx, which is developing treatments for cancer and other diseases by inhibiting the action of an enzyme called Mer tyrosine. The school enrolls approximately 650 students in its professional degree program, more than 100 students in its graduate program and has more than 100 full-time faculty members.

Click here to see a video of the announcement.

By Susan Hudson, University Gazette

Published and updated Dec. 3, 2014