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$20 million gift for Neurogenetic Institute

As a sign of his commitment to the study and eventual eradication of degenerative neurological disorders, Selim K. Zilkha, a Los Angeles businessman, has pledged a $20 million gift to complete the construction of what is to be called the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute.

Zilkha has also agreed to serve as a member of the Keck School of Medicine’s Board of Overseers.

The 125,000-square-foot, six-story Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute will house upwards of 30 new faculty members involved in the Neurogenetic Initiative. Construction of the Zilkha Institute is currently underway; the building is scheduled to be open for initial occupancy by November of this year.

The overall design of the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute is intended to act as a catalyst to encourage interdisciplinary research collaboration among the basic and clinical sciences.

Through its design, this state-of-the-art institute will emphasize shared space and equipment, centralized core laboratories, and maximization of potential for interaction among the scientists involved in the Initiative.

The Zilkha Institute’s researchers will lay the foundation for new cures and therapeutic strategies to attack Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and the scores of other debilitating neurological and psychiatric disorders faced by people 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 from Selim Zilkha,” 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.”

“Selim Zilkha has demonstrated his abilities as a business leader in many widely differing industries,” said Robert Day, chairman of the board of the W. M. Keck Foundation. “We are pleased that the Zilkha Foundation has joined the partnership of the W.M. Keck Foundation and the University of Southern California to build a preeminent medical school. I have every confidence that the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute will have a major impact on science and research in particular, especially in relation to Alzheimer’s disease and other dreaded diseases affecting the brain. As a personal friend, I thank Selim for his philanthropy and his generosity that 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.

Selim Zilkha attended Horace Mann in New York and subsequently graduated with a B.A. from Williams College in 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 went into the energy business, starting Zilkha Energy Company, a highly successful enterprise that explored for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico. The company was sold to Sonat Inc in January 1998.

His present business interests include Zilkha Renewable Energy, a company that is currently 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, California, producing a world-class Pinot Noir.

“This gift really makes the Neurogenetic Institute happen,” said Brian E. Henderson, the Institute’s director. “It’s absolutely critical to the foundation of the Institute, and all the hopes we have to develop a strong program in neuroscience.”

Unraveling the complexities of the nervous system will require a true interdisciplinary approach, added Henderson.

The Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute will allow that sort of intermingling of disciplines and ideas by bringing together in one building scientists from a variety of departments, pursuing a variety of research goals.

This gift from Selim Zilkha, Ryan said, is a genuine partnership with the Keck School of Medicine, and will support the far-reaching goals set forth by the School.

It will not only help ensure the preeminence of the Zilkha Institute, but will enrich beyond measure the lives of people living in this region and beyond.

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