The University of Florida has announced that the Dr. Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Family Foundation has provided $100 million — the largest gift from an individual donor in university history — to elevate the stature of UF Scripps as one of the world’s leading forces in biomedical research and to advance the leading-edge work of faculty at the campus in Jupiter, Florida.
This transformational lead investment will launch a 10-year, $1 billion public-private partnership — spearheaded by UF Scripps — that is focused on amplifying fundamental science, driving research that translates profound discoveries from bench to bedside to business, training the next generation of innovators and investigators, and improving the health outcomes and experiences of countless patients and families in Palm Beach County, throughout Florida and across the nation.
The Wertheim gift will further strengthen the university’s powerhouse research capabilities and create a nerve center for biomedical discovery at the UF Scripps campus with the resources to conquer or prevent disease and foster health care inclusion. It will support the continued development of more than 100 acres — a 30-acre campus situated within Palm Beach County’s innovation corridor that houses 360,000 square feet of research facilities, offices and classrooms and an adjacent 70-acre tract of land. In recognition of this milestone investment, the campus will be named the Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation & Technology.
“This historic gift is a testament to Dr. Wertheim’s extraordinary philanthropic vision and his belief in UF and UF Health’s boundary-breaking work to accelerate scientific discovery for the health, welfare and benefit of all those we serve,” UF President Kent Fuchs said. “Together, we will not only strengthen the clinical expertise of our top 5 public university, we will shape a culture of inspiration where future generations of scientists can marshal their creative energies in pursuit of scientific and clinical breakthroughs.”
The University of Florida — the state’s flagship land-grant university — is uniquely equipped to tackle an initiative of this scope and scale, Fuchs said. UF was listed as one of the top 5 public research universities in the nation for the second year in a row, according to the 2023 Best Colleges rankings released last month by U.S. News & World Report. The university surpassed $1 billion in research spending for the first time in 2022, joining an exclusive group of about 15 public universities around the country to reach that mark.
UF has experience launching other dynamic and interdisciplinary public-private partnerships, including a long-term initiative to deploy artificial intelligence, or AI, across the curriculum and address society’s grand challenges. Additionally, the integration earlier this year of UF Scripps with UF Health, the Southeast’s premier academic health center, has enhanced the university’s statewide presence and global reputation for biomedical research.
The UF Scripps campus’ highly entrepreneurial culture has enabled scientists to spin off new Florida-based companies at a rate of about one per year — each aimed at accelerating the development of innovative medicines — and to produce more than 170 clusters of patents. A 2021 study showed the campus has produced more than $3.2 billion in economic impact since its opening in 2009. This breakthrough environment has incubated nationally renowned research programs focused on RNA structure and therapeutics, brain health and neurotherapeutics and finding a cure for HIV, among many others.
UF Scripps is also committed to training future generations of scientific researchers — the Skaggs Graduate School of Chemical and Biological Sciences is a nationally recognized doctoral program in biomedical sciences that continues to operate as part of the Scripps Research bicoastal graduate program with ongoing support from UF Health. It has approximately 85 doctoral students taught by faculty members in Florida and operates in close collaboration with graduate school faculty at the main Scripps Research location in La Jolla, California.
“The Wertheim lead gift will serve as a potent catalyst for continued growth and scientific and clinical discovery,” said Dr. David R. Nelson, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “The scientists at UF Scripps are world-class experts who have noticeably expanded our research and educational enterprise. Our shared vision with Dr. Wertheim is to invest in these standout faculty and set our sights on ‘moonshot’ projects with the potential to bring forth new medicines, therapies or treatments for today’s most challenging diseases. Thanks to our recent alliance with Jupiter Medical Center, we will be well-positioned to translate research advances into clinical breakthroughs that better the lives of our patients and communities.”
Wertheim, a UF alumnus, scientist, engineer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and member of the Board of Directors of Scripps Research, helped facilitate the integration of UF Scripps with UF Health. His entrepreneurial spirit and passion for discovery has guided his distinguished career as an optometric physician; he was the first to discover and produce ultraviolet light dye absorbers for eyeglass lenses that have helped millions of people avoid cataracts, retinal deterioration and other eye diseases. He is the founder and CEO of Brain Power Incorporated®, or BPI®, the world’s largest manufacturer of ophthalmic instruments, cosmetic and therapeutic tints for eyeglass lenses, and diagnostic products for optometrists, ophthalmologists, opticians and optical laboratories. He was awarded the Horatio Alger Award in 2011, which symbolizes personal initiative, perseverance and leadership and confers lifetime membership in the Horatio Alger Association. In 2015, he and his wife, Nicole, committed $50 million to launch a $300 million public-private initiative for UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering that supported the construction of the college’s flagship Herbert Wertheim Laboratory for Engineering Excellence.
The Wertheim Family Foundation has been active for 50 years and is animated by a clear mission statement — “making life on Earth better.” The Wertheims signed the Giving Pledge in 2015, a commitment by many of the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate most of their wealth to charitable causes and address society’s most pressing problems. Much of the Wertheim philanthropic legacy is centered on public higher education, with multiple named colleges and facilities at universities across the nation, including the Herbert Wertheim School of Optometry and Vision Science at University of California, Berkeley; the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Florida International University; and the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at University of California, San Diego.
“I have had the privilege of watching firsthand UF’s growth into one of the nation’s best public universities, and the integration of UF Scripps with UF Health has advanced UF to the next plateau of success,” Dr. Wertheim said. “There is tremendous potential at this campus to recruit other world-class researchers and explore scientific possibilities that cannot be done elsewhere. I am proud to have my name connected to an initiative that will truly make life on Earth better for so many.”
The Wertheim $100 million lead gift is the focal point of an expansive 10-year, $1 billion public-private partnership that will leverage additional support from UF, UF Health and other philanthropic partners. Critical investments in the institute’s endowment will enable the recruitment and retention of leading experts, assist primary investigators and their labs in the discovery of new biological molecules or chemicals, promote community outreach efforts that can improve health care quality throughout Palm Beach County and across the state, prioritize information and education around preventive health care services, integrate artificial intelligence and advanced laboratory methods within several diverse areas of science to generate beneficial health care discoveries, and provide enhanced opportunities for advanced degrees and training.
Additional investments will help UF convene an interdisciplinary community of researchers from partner and Wertheim-affiliated institutions, including Florida Atlantic University; Florida International University; the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience in Jupiter; Scripps Research in California; and other regional hospitals, clinics and laboratories. UF Health has already signed a letter of intent with Jupiter Medical Center to develop plans to transform health care delivery, research and education in Palm Beach and Martin counties and other surrounding communities.
“A vision of this scale requires an incredible array of resources, commitment and leadership, and we are deeply grateful to Dr. Wertheim for his advocacy and unmatched generosity,” Fuchs said. “The University of Florida community is excited to deepen our partnership with Dr. Wertheim and apply his transformational gift to our shared work in Jupiter. The Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation & Technology will be a nucleus of growth, discovery and advancement for our university — and our world — for generations to come.”