UNC-Chapel Hill receives largest individual gift ever, $100 million for pharmacy school

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will receive $100 million for its pharmacy school, the largest individual gift in the school's history and among the top 10 donations to a college nationally in 2014.

Fred Eshelman, who graduated from UNC in 1972 and previously had given $38 million to the pharmacy school, donated the money to start the Eshelman Institute for innovation, where students and faculty will tackle issues such as researching new drugs, investigating new strategies for patient treatment. The pharmacy school, already named after Eshelman, will house the institute, said Dean Robert Blouin. The gift was announced Wednesday.

The gift had been in the works for 11 years, since Eshelman made his first donation of $20 million in 2003, Blouin said. "He was interested in seeing how that investment worked out," Blouin said in a phone interview.

Eshelman pointed to the school's creation of more than 15 spin-off companies and its generation of more than 130 patents as evidence of its success. "Their success demonstrates the power and the future of drug discovery in academia, and it's a future that I am eager and proud to support," he said in a news release.

Eshelman is the founder and former chief executive officer of Pharmaceutical Product Development, which was sold in 2011 for $3.9 billion, and founding chairman of Furiex Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired in July 2014 in an all-cash transaction valued about $1.1 billion. He's a former member of the UNC Board of Trustees, having resigned that position earlier this year, one year before his term expired.

Large donations typically endow professorships and pay for buildings, Chancellor Carol Folt said. "One of the special things is it doesn't have a detailed budget," she said. "By its very nature, it's going to be used by the dean and the center in a flexible way. ... It's really extraordinary, what every wonderful research school would like."

The gift is one of seven of $100 million or more to a college or university so far this year from individuals or their foundations, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The largest was $350 million to the Harvard School of Public Health.

The donation is more than twice UNC-Chapel Hill's previous largest gift of $50 million made in 2007 made by Dennis and Joan Gillings to the School of Public Health.


Martha Waggoner can be reached at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc