Plans are underway to establish a $6 million endowment fund to support medical research conducted by U of T faculty members. The endowment, slated to be named the Drucker Family Innovation Fund, was proposed by U of T Professor of Medicine Daniel Drucker and is planned as part of the university’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin.
The Drucker Family Innovation Fund will be used to finance an annual grant competition focused on medical research. Those eligible to compete will be U of T faculty members in the Department of Medicine — stationed at either Mount Sinai Hospital or the University Health Network (UHN) — along with all faculty affiliated with the Banting and Best Diabetes Centre. Individual grants as high as $50,000 will be awarded.
As part of the proposal, Drucker has pledged to contribute $2 million, contingent on U of T and the UHN each gifting the same amount. The money invested by all three parties will coalesce into the $6 million endowment fund.
The UHN is a Toronto-based health care and medical research organization affiliated with the university. In addition to housing research facilities occupied by U of T faculty members, its constituent hospitals provide training for medical students and postdoctoral fellows. These researchers would be among the potential beneficiaries of the prospective fund. Due to an existing patent license agreement, the UHN has already benefited monetarily from Drucker’s research.
According to Vivek Goel, Vice-President Research & Innovation, U of T will derive its $2 million from revenue generated by Drucker’s discoveries. Like all U of T researchers, Drucker owes the university a certain percentage of earnings on inventions made using U of T resources; this arrangement is outlined in the university’s Inventions Policy. Thanks to the importance of his work, Drucker’s research has already generated $7.4 million for the university.
U of T’s share of inventions revenue, from inventions that generate over $500,000 in cumulative net revenue, is normally funnelled into the Connaught Fund, which distributes the money to faculty members through various research awards. However, the Inventions Policy allows the Vice-President Research & Innovation to invest this money elsewhere in exceptional cases. “The combination of the generous donation from Prof. Drucker, the level of royalty revenue and the upcoming anniversary represent a very exceptional circumstance,” Goel wrote in a report submitted to the Business Board of U of T’s Governing Council.
The 100th anniversary of insulin’s discovery is significant for the university — it was primarily a team of four U of T researchers that identified the hormone in 1921. Frederick Banting, John JR Macleod, Charles H Best, and James B Collip used a novel experimental technique to discern that insulin, secreted by the pancreas, plays an essential role in diabetes prevention. Following the team’s announcement of its findings, the university helped produce and distribute insulin to diabetics worldwide.
The upcoming celebrations and U of T’s connection to the discovery present a unique opportunity for the university. By capitalizing on the medical community’s excitement, fundraising initiatives might raise more money to finance U of T researchers. This is part of Drucker’s motivation for establishing a fund in honour of the occasion. “Professor Drucker is hoping that when we publicly announce this with the [UHN], it will be the kickoff for [a] much larger fundraising campaign,” said Goel at the latest Business Board meeting.
Drucker’s research has helped to create life-saving treatments for diabetes and other endocrine disorders. His work is closely tied to the research conducted by Banting and Macleod’s team. In addition to being a Professor of Medicine at U of T, Drucker is a Senior Investigator for the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, located at Mount Sinai Hospital. His research there centres on the physiology of specific hormones responsible for diabetes, obesity, and intestinal disorders. Some of these hormones are known to regulate insulin secretion. Studies conducted by his personal lab have helped produce new treatments for both type 2 diabetes and short bowel syndrome — diseases that affect millions of people across the world.
The university made Drucker an Assistant Professor of Medicine in 1987. By then he was already familiar with the institution, having earned his medical degree from U of T seven years prior. He spent the intervening time receiving clinical training in endocrinology and internal medicine from both The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and Toronto General Hospital, which is now part of the UHN. Additionally, he completed a research fellowship in molecular endocrinology at Massachusetts General Hospital.
As the fund has yet to be finalized, the university has not formally announced it. However, in an email to The Varsity, U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church said that it is one of many initiatives planned. “We are working on university-wide celebrations for the 100th anniversary in 2021, and we will start to share those plans once they are finalized,” Church said.
The Business Board, responsible for conducting periodic reviews of university fund allocation, received information of the proposed fund at its latest meeting. The Connaught Committee, which allocates funds for further research, approved Goel’s reallocation of inventions revenue plan in December.