UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

$40 million gift from Li Ka Shing Foundation boosts health science research

– The University of California, Berkeley, has received a $40 million gift from the Li Ka Shing Foundation to establish a research center focused on new scientific fields - including stem cell biology and brain imaging - that could provide solutions to today's major health problems.

In recognition of Li's generosity, the university will name the new facility the Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences.

Chancellor Birgeneau and Li Ka Shing
UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau with entrepreneur and philanthropist Li Ka-shing on June 20 in Hong Kong. (Photo courtesy Li Ka Shing Foundation)

The donation is the largest international gift in the history of UC Berkeley and will allow the campus to start planning for the Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences, which will replace Warren Hall, current home of the School of Public Health. Groundbreaking for the $160 million research building, one of the cornerstones of the campus's Health Sciences Initiative, is slated for 2007, with construction to be completed in 2009.

"This is a major gift that not only sets us on the critical path to completing the building phase of the Health Sciences Initiative, but also represents a strong endorsement from a world-leading philanthropist for the innovative and progressive biomedical science program at UC Berkeley," said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau.

Meeting with Birgeneau in Hong Kong on June 20, Li said that he became impressed with UC Berkeley's achievements in medical research when he first met with former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl in 2004. "I am a firm believer in the spirit of public-private partnership, and I am excited by the advanced work Berkeley is undertaking. The work and research being done there will result in phenomenal benefits to mankind."

The Li center will house the Henry H. Wheeler Jr. Brain Imaging Center, part of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, as well as scientists tackling the complexities of cancer, brain diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, infectious diseases such as the worldwide killers HIV and dengue fever, and stem cell biology.

"With advances in molecular biology, genomics, stem cell biology, computer sciences, tissue engineering, chemistry and the physical sciences all converging on biomedical problems, UC Berkeley is poised with the best human resources to mount a coordinated attack on the killer diseases of the world," said Robert Tjian, UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology and faculty director of the initiative. "Both Li and the foundation have demonstrated an uncanny and profound appreciation for UC Berkeley's mission - to provide the highest quality research and teaching to the largest population of gifted students."

Li Ka-shing, one of the world's leading philanthropists and entrepreneurs, maintains a long-standing commitment to the advancement of education and the healthcare sciences, in part because he was forced to abandon his formal education at the age of 12 when his father died of illness. In 1980, he established the Li Ka Shing Foundation to coordinate support of education and medical care as "twin pillars of society." Last month, he donated $128 million, the largest contribution in the history of Asia, to the medical program at the University of Hong Kong.

Li's involvement with UC Berkeley started in 1998 when the foundation provided $100,000 for two years of support for the Berkeley Scholars Program. Prior to this latest gift, the foundation's contributions to UC Berkeley totaled $1.4 million, including an endowment for the Li Ka Shing Chair in Health Management at the Haas School of Business.

"Li and his foundation have had a continuing interest in supporting UC Berkeley, in part because he believes in world-class research and teaching that is conducted in a public university," said Randy Schekman, UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology and chair of the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Biology. "He also has a great interest in using his resources and philanthropy to help develop a better understanding of disease mechanisms and to encourage innovative new treatments."

The campus's Health Sciences Initiative was launched in 1999 to apply state-of-the-art tools in the physical sciences and engineering to the most pressing problems of biomedicine.

"The Health Sciences Initiative culminates almost a decade of planning, recruiting, building and adjusting, and, ultimately, revolutionizing our vision of how biomedical science should and will be done in the 21st century," Tjian said. "The Health Sciences Initiative is essential for UC Berkeley and a great benefit to the world because, for the first time, we have been able to bring together in a highly collaborative and coordinated fashion the high quality research and teaching that traditionally spans disparate sets of disciplines - that is, biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, computer science and public health."

The first phase of the Health Sciences Initiative resulted in the creation of the UC Berkeley branch of the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3), one of four California Institutes for Science and Innovation established by the state in 2000. At the eastern entrance to the campus is rising a home for the institute's Berkeley branch - the Stanley Biosciences and Bioengineering Facility - that is set to house "a powerful collection of world-class physical scientists to work on structural biology, bioinformatics, bioengineering, molecular imaging, single molecule measurements and synthetic biology," Tjian said.

While phase 1 is about developing the tools, Tjian noted, phase 2 is about attacking disease. The Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences will complement QB3 by emphasizing a deep understanding of the molecular mechanisms of disease, with a focus on cancer, the brain, infectious agents and, most importantly, stem cell biology.

Integration of the research in QB3 and in the Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences is the essence of the Health Sciences Initiative, he added. The important next phase, he said, will be to continue building the interdisciplinary research program by recruiting new faculty and students, establishing state-of-the-art research labs with specialized facilities, such as stem cell laboratories, and initiating new courses to train future scientists.

"This mission of public universities like UC Berkeley benefits not only the students but the economy, both locally and globally, by creating the environment for industries to flourish, such as biotechnology, information technology and the applications of stem cell research for the future," Chancellor Birgeneau said.

"Li is an extraordinarily successful businessman who comes from humble beginnings and clearly sees the value and unique contributions of a public institution like UC Berkeley," Tjian said. "I guess you could say that he sees that we are at the very top of universities worldwide in terms of educational quality, but at the bottom in terms of cost. This allows UC Berkeley to be accessible to students globally, but especially to those from the Pacific Rim. Otherwise, these talented students might not be able to afford to attend expensive private universities."