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Los Angeles Businessman Selim Zilkha Pledges $20 million to USC’s Neurogenetic Institute

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Selim K. Zilkha, in front of the nearly-completed Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute.

Los Angeles businessman Selim K. Zilkha has pledged $20 million to complete the construction of what will be called the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute.

The 125,000 square-foot, six-story institute will house more than 30 new faculty members involved in USC’s Neurogenetic Initiative. Construction is currently underway, and the building is slated to open at year’s end.

Through its design, the state-of-the-art institute will encourage interdisciplinary research and collaboration, emphasizing shared space and equipment and centralized core laboratories.

Researchers at the new institute will lay the foundation for new cures and therapeutic strategies to attack Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, anxiety and scores of other debilitating neurological and psychiatric disorders faced by millions worldwide.

“My mother and my eldest brother both suffered from Alzheimer’s for several years, hence my interest in neurogenetic diseases,” said Zilkha.

“We are so pleased by this most generous gift,” said Stephen J. Ryan, dean of the Keck School of Medicine. “We were fortunate to be introduced to Selim through his friendship with Robert Day, chairman of the W.M. Keck Foundation, who has directly helped make the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute a reality.”

“I have every confidence that the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute will have a major impact on science and research, especially in relation to Alzheimer’s disease and other dreaded diseases affecting the brain,” added Day. “As a personal friend, I thank Selim for his philanthropy – his generosity will benefit Los Angeles and the nation.”

Zilkha’s father, Khedoury Zilkha, owned the largest private bank in the Middle East. The family moved to America in 1941.

The younger Zilkha attended the Horace Mann School in the Riverdale section of New York City and later earned a B.A. from Williams College, Williamstown, Mass. He served in the U.S. army in 1945. Zilkha then worked in finance for Zilkha & Sons in New York, Paris and London from 1947 to 1960.

In 1960, he founded Mothercare, a retail chain specializing in everything for the mother-to-be and her baby with branches in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States. He sold his interest in Mothercare in 1982 and returned to the United States.

In 1983, Zilkha entered the energy business, starting Zilkha Energy Co., a successful enterprise that explored the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas. The company was sold to Sonat Inc in 1998, which, in turn, sold the firm to the El Paso Corporation in 1999.

His present business interests include Zilkha Renewable Energy, a company developing wind farms in the United States; Socratech, a biotech company that has as its goal the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of a variety of brain disorders; and Laetitia, a vineyard and winery in Arroyo Grande, Calif.,

“This gift … is absolutely critical to the foundation of the institute, and all the hopes we have to develop a strong program in neuroscience,” said Brian E. Henderson, the institute’s director.

Unraveling the complexities of the nervous system will require a true interdisciplinary approach. The Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute will allow an intermingling of disciplines and ideas, Henderson said.

Zilkha will also serve as a member of the Keck School of Medicine of USC’s board of overseers.

Contact Lori Oliwenstein at (323) 442-2827.

Los Angeles Businessman Selim Zilkha Pledges $20 million to USC’s Neurogenetic Institute

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