August 14, 2019

Amgen Foundation Honors David Baltimore with Gift to Caltech

The Amgen Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the biotechnology company, has committed $7.5 million for a suite of graduate fellowships in biochemistry and molecular biophysics that will provide Caltech students exceptional latitude in their studies of the molecular basis of life. The fellowship program is in the name of Caltech president emeritus and Nobel laureate David Baltimore.

This is a pivotal time in the life sciences, as new technologies allow researchers to observe biological processes in unprecedented detail. The fellowship program will encourage breakthroughs across scientific fields, building on a record of Institute discoveries that have shaped medicine and humanity’s understanding of life.

The David Baltimore–Amgen Fellowships will equip Caltech to address the need for a more diverse group of highly trained scholars in the life sciences, scholars who will integrate fundamental science with medical innovation as Professor Baltimore has done throughout his distinguished career. Generations of Baltimore-Amgen Fellows will amplify each other’s efforts to forge new insights and enable longer, healthier lives.

Robert Bradway, Amgen’s chairman and chief executive officer, helped envision the foundation’s gift. “This exciting new program represents the latest step forward in our company’s long-standing partnership with Caltech,” says Bradway. “It is fitting that this program bears the name of David Baltimore, Amgen’s long-serving former board colleague and collaborator. I’m confident that the Amgen Foundation’s commitment to advancing the future of scientific innovation will be strengthened through our support of some of today’s most promising young researchers.”

This contribution, combined with $3.75 million from Caltech’s Gordon and Betty Moore Graduate Fellowship Match and an existing Amgen one-year fellowship, will endow two-year fellowships for eight students, the average number to enter the graduate program in biochemistry and molecular biophysics (BMB) each year.

The David Baltimore–Amgen Fellowships will help Caltech attract extraordinary students and, in turn, faculty, across the life sciences, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, physics, and other disciplines.

“Each year a cohort of Baltimore-Amgen fellows will bring their insights, quantitative skills, diverse perspectives, and enthusiasm to a broad array of problems important for understanding the fundamental science of human health,” says President Thomas F. Rosenbaum, Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics. “They will tread in the large footsteps of David Baltimore, building on his example for generations to come. We are grateful to the Amgen Foundation for its continuing partnership and generosity.”

“Each year a cohort of Baltimore-Amgen fellows will bring their insights, quantitative skills, diverse perspectives, and enthusiasm to a broad array of problems important for understanding the fundamental science of human health.”
- President Thomas F. Rosenbaum

The Roots of Discovery and Impact

When David Baltimore joined Caltech as its president in 1997, Institute faculty were in the early stages of launching an innovative graduate option that would evolve into the biochemistry and molecular biophysics program organized by Caltech’s Divisions of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering (CCE) and Biology and Biological Engineering (BBE). The program combines disciplines to explore biological processes at molecular scales, from quantitative and mechanistic viewpoints, steeps students in diverse scientific approaches through courses and laboratory rotations, and provides a breadth of intellectual exposure that enriches their educational and research experiences.

Dennis Dougherty, the George Grant Hoag Professor of Chemistry and the Norman Davidson Leadership Chair in CCE, whose division now administers Caltech’s biochemistry and molecular biophysics graduate option, points to the impact of Amgen’s investment.

“The Baltimore-Amgen Fellows Program will sponsor a collaborative community of students who bring diverse perspectives to the exploration of molecular mechanisms,” he says. “Their findings will open new opportunities to understand, diagnose, prevent, and treat disease. The Amgen Foundation’s generous gift leverages Caltech’s strengths across chemistry, the life sciences, and other disciplines. It centers on a field that David Baltimore has shaped with his life’s work and is a fitting tribute to his legacy.”

Baltimore, Caltech’s Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1975 for his work on the genetic mechanisms of viruses. He has been a member of the biochemistry and molecular biophysics faculty since the option’s early years.

David Baltimore, Caltech President Emeritus and Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of BiologyBaltimore’s expansive research program integrates basic discovery with applications to medicine and has revealed connections among viruses, genes, the immune system, and diseases such as AIDS and cancer. His efforts to engineer viruses for gene therapy and other molecular interventions require the rigorous mechanistic understanding of biological systems that the BMB graduate option embraces.

“David Baltimore’s series of breakthroughs in fundamental biology and their applications in medicine exemplify the impact Caltech’s biochemistry and molecular biophysics program strives for,” says Steve Mayo (PhD ’87), the Bren Professor of Biology and Chemistry and the William K. Bowes Jr. Leadership Chair in BBE.

“Thanks to the Amgen Foundation’s visionary gift in David’s honor,” he continues, “this program will thrive at the forefront of science. Its students and faculty will unveil fundamental biological mechanisms. What they discover will inform important technologies and treatments that benefit society.”

Amgen Foundation, a Charter Supporter of BMB Innovation at Caltech

Amgen and the Amgen Foundation have supported graduate study in BMB from its inception, and have extended generous philanthropic support to the Institute with the Amgen Scholars Program and the Gordon M. Binder/Amgen Professorship held by microbiologist Dianne Newman.