SAN FRANCISCO — Philanthropists Sandy and Joan Weill on Monday announced a $185 million donation for a new neuroscience institute at UC San Francisco, the largest donation in the school’s history.
The Sonoma County couple, whose $12 million donation in 2014 made possible the completion of the Weill Hall concert space at Sonoma State University, now are helping to establish UCSF’s Weill Institute for Neurosciences. Construction of a $316 million facility to house the institute is expected to begin next year in San Francisco at the Mission Bay campus south of AT&T Park.
The donation appears to be the largest ever made by residents of Sonoma County. University representatives also characterized it as among the largest ever for brain research in the United States.
The Weills, who split their time between California and New York, said they hope their gift will spur key advances for some medical disciplines that haven’t received the sort of financial backing given to cancer and cardiovascular research.
“I think that Joan and I have always liked to play with the underdog,” Sanford “Sandy” Weill said Monday while seated beside his wife in a second-floor conference room that looked out toward San Francisco Bay. “And we looked at the neurosciences as underdogs relative to cancer and cardio, where a lot more was being done.”
The couple said they hope the institute will improve the lives of people with Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, autism, sleeping disorders and other brain-related ailments.
Moreover, Joan Weill called it important that UCSF will include psychiatric research as part of the brain studies to be undertaken at the institute. Her hope is that one day psychiatric illnesses will be treated “like regular diseases.”
“It will take the stigma away,” she said.
The couple, who will celebrate their 61st wedding anniversary in June, are investors in Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.
Forbes estimates the net worth of Sandy Weill, a former chief executive of Citigroup, at $1.06 billion.
UCSF is a powerful force in Northern California’s medical community, serving as a resource for Bay Area residents facing the most difficult health challenges. It operates top-ranked hospitals, graduate schools and research facilities in San Francisco and Oakland.
Dr. Matthew State, chairman of UCSF’s Department of Psychiatry, said the Weills’ donation will be “truly transformational” for the public university.
“It is an extraordinary vote of confidence for them to make this kind of investment in neuroscience at UCSF,” he said.
The Weills moved to Sonoma County in 2010 after purchasing a 362-acre estate in the hills west of Sonoma. While they split their time between two coasts, Sandy Weill said they consider themselves Sonoma County residents.
“New York and the Bay Area are the two most exciting places to be in the United States,” he said.
The couple began their involvement with UCSF about four years ago when Sandy Weill was invited to join a small group of business leaders who sit on the executive council of UCSF Health.
UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood said in a statement that the Weills “have challenged us to think big.” The couple, he said, see the great potential to make advances in neuroscience and “transform the treatment of our patients.”