Collaboration is all the rage in medical research philanthropy, with funders like the Adelsons giving big to interdisciplinary approaches to combating disease. Cornell alumnus Ira Druckier and his wife Gale recently gave $25 million to Weill Cornell Medical College to establish the Gale and Ira Drukier Institute for Children’s Health. The focus of the institute is "cross-disciplinary approaches" to solving pediatric health puzzles such as asthma, autism, cancer, cardiovascular disease, infectious diseases and schizophrenia. Sound familiar?
What's interesting, however, is that the Drukiers don't appear to have a history of medical giving. Instead, much of their giving has focused on art; New York area outfits such as the American Museum of Natural History Planetarium Authority, MoMA, MeT, and the Guggenheim have received sums over the years. The Drukiers have also given large sums to Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell, which hosts the Gale and Ira Drukier Curator of European and American Art, Prints & Drawing.
Drukier co-owns BD Hotels LLC, which owns and operates dozens of hotels in New York and has been collecting art since college. Meanwhile, Gale, a longtime audiologist, sits on the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art Advisory Council at Cornell and used to co-chair the Parrish Art Museum's Council of Landscape Pleasures.
So the Drukiers are obviously passionate about art. But what explains the Drukiers' big gift to pediatric health research?
Well, for starters, the Drukiers have a family that they're worried about. As Drukier puts it: "As parents and grandparents, Gale and I appreciate the tremendous impact medicine can have on growing children... when you cure children, you give them their entire life back." We've seen other medical giving motivated by a personal challenge or tragedy, when someone close to a funder is dealing with life-threatening illness. But it's also true that simply having family connections can motivate giving, paricularly as parents become grandparents.
Drukier has served on the Weill Cornell Board of Overseers since 2012 and sat on the Cornell University Board of Trustees for eight years. He was also part of the Cornell Tech Task Force to help develop the Cornell NYC Tech campus on Roosevelt Island. In recent months, we've written about another prominent businessman, oil man Robert Belfer, who, along with his wife, gave at least $250 million to Weill Cornell's capital campaign and established the Belfer Research Building. This new research building will provide centers in a wide variety of medical areas, including cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. In fact, the Drukier Institute will be housed on the 12th floor of the new Belfer Research Building.
While it's unclear what relationship the Drukiers and the Belfers have, at the very least we know that both Drukier and Belfer sit on the Weill Cornell board together. Moreover, the Belfers have been deep into medical research for years, not only at Weill Cornell but elsewhere. The Belfers' gift, then, literally created space for the Drukiers to step in. And unlike Belfer, Drukier also went to Cornell, as did his daughter, so the humdrum forces of alumni loyalty likely played a role here too.
The Drukiers' $25 million gift will also allow Weill Cornell to obtain research equipment, recruit five leading scientists, establish the annual Drukier Lectureship on pediatric health, and endow the annual Drukier Prize in pediatric research.
The focus? Taking basic research breakthroughs swiftly from the lab bench to the hospital room, transforming them into effective therapy that can be wielded against the toughest children’s diseases.
It's a timely gift, given how some big technological advances are in the works. Genetic banking and sequencing capabilities are especially key for treating children, who haven’t had a lifetime to accrue environmental exposures that could boost their susceptibility to disease. In other words, if a kid gets sick, it’s usually from an inherited predilection. The Drukiers’ gift will also help Weill Cornell build up the kind of infrastructure necessary for establishing a biobank. Cool stuff.