How the Starr Foundation Rekindled Its Romance With the Health Sector

Founded by insurance broker Cornelius Vander Starr, The Starr Foundation is one of the largest sources of funding in the country for higher education and health-care research. Over the past decade, the foundation courted both of these sectors with some rather handsome tokens — that is, until the late 2000s, when the organization's interest in health-care research appeared to be fading. However, 2012 saw a reversal of that trend.

In May of that year, the Miami-based Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute (ISCI) at Miller School of Medicine received $10 million from Starr to pay for research on stem cells. A clinical trial known as the Poseidon, run by the university, tests the differences between "autologous" stem cells, grown from someone's own tissue, and "allogeneic" stem cells, grown elsewhere, on patients prone to heart failure. Miller Professor Joshua M. Hare, MD, expects that the money from Starr, in conjunction with funds from other donors, will "guarantee the stability of ISCI through the end of the decade."

Additionally, The Starr Foundation renewed a gift of $55 million in 2012 to the Starr Cancer Consortium (SCC), a collaboration including many the country's leading cancer research organizations. The "unlikely alliances" produced by the interuniversity and interhospital project have led to important breakthroughs in cancer research. These events include new drugs for treating melanoma, a better understanding of Myelodysplastic Syndrome, and new methods of identifying individuals at high risk for breast cancer. Foundation Chairman Maurice R. Greenberg has commented on the frequency with which "consortium scientists from different laboratories and different research institutions have inspired each other to pursue novel paths to understanding cancers and optimizing treatments." (Read The Starr Foundation President Florence Davis's IP profile.)

In the area of higher education, The Starr Foundation awards scholarships worth anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000 to individual students, many of whom study economics or business. (See Starr Foundation: Grants for Higher Education.) Starr also gives huge institutional grants to research universities such as Yale, Cornell, and MIT. Should the tides of The Starr Foundation's desire vacillate once again, as they surely will in the next few years, the foundation has promised an additional $12 million on top of the already sizable endowment that it has provided for Yale.