Why These Campus Gifts for Pharmaceutical Sciences Are So Timely

We here at Inside Philanthropy normally don't provide investment advice, but there's a time and a place for everything.

Upon reading that the University of Arizona netted more than $12 million for an exploding growth industry, I couldn't help but paraphrase an iconic line from The Graduate: "One word: Pharmaceuticals."  

The demographics don't lie. Baby boomers are retiring en masse—about 10,000 a day. Many will live long—although not necessarily healthy—lives. And no one seems to be predicting the imminent automation of your friendly neighborhood pharmacist. (At least not yet.)

None of this is lost on the University of Arizona and the ALSAM Foundation. The school is currently expanding and renovating the Skaggs Pharmaceutical Sciences Center, built with the support of Utah businessman L.S. "Sam" Skaggs 35 years ago to the tune of $31.5 million. Class of '67 alumnus R. Ken Coit and his wife, Donna, along with '70 alumnus Rick Katz provided lead gifts totaling $2 million.

Earlier this year, the school announced that the ALSAM Foundation, an organization founded by the Skaggs Family, has provided a $10 million challenge grant for the project. 

The ALSAM Foundation has given hundreds of millions of dollars to education and health research by way of scholarships and research centers. In 1996, it allocated $100 million for the creation of the Skaggs Center for Chemical Biology at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.

As for the Skaggs Pharmaceutical Sciences Center Challenge, history suggests the university's donor community will be up to the challenge. As I noted back in late 2016, the school met its $1.5 billion fundraising goal two years early. Its success provides an illuminating case study of how Sunbelt prosperity, affluent alumni and private-sector job growth can drive an upsurge in regional philanthropy far from the continent's coasts.

The ALSAM Foundation isn't the only health funder whose recent philanthropy can be viewed through the lens of the baby boomer retirement stampede. We've noted how the James S. McDonnell Foundation's work in cognitive aging is especially pressing as increasing longevity ratchets up the need to address age-related issues. The same could be said about a range of other funders pumping money into neuroscience research as an epidemic of Alzheimer's looms in a graying nation. And funders focused on diabetes are grimly aware of the fact that 55 percent or more of boomers have the disease.

University of Arizona College of Pharmacy Dean Rick G. Schnellmann, Ph.D., believes the newly renovated space will not only advance drug discovery, but also enhance education for future pharmacists. With the U.S. Census Bureau pegging the baby boomer population at 76.4 million, it's hard to doubt either of Schnellmann's aspirations.