Building the Business of Biotech: Penn's Vagelos Program In Life Sciences and Management

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Media Contact:Greg Lester | glester@pobox.upenn.edu | 215-573-6604November 17, 2005

PHILADELPHIA -- To meet the mounting intellectual demands of a rapidly evolving industry, the University of Pennsylvania is introducing the Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management, a program that draws upon Penn's expertise in both science and business to train the next generation of biotech scholars and leaders.  

Through the program, students will gain fundamental science knowledge as well as the business acumen necessary to take advantage of trends in research and technology.  The LSM program is a joint effort of Penn's School of Arts and Sciences and Wharton School.  

"This program is new, yet long overdue, because it addresses a basic need the need for decision makers and leaders whose understanding of the life sciences gives them a basis for decisive leadership in the business of biotech in its many guises," said Philip A. Rea, the Penn biology professor who will co-direct the program with Wharton professor Mark V. Pauly.

Students in the program will learn the basics of the life sciences, how living things work and its significance for a number of areas, ranging from healthcare, pharmaceutical and agricultural biotechnology to environmental protection and remediation.  At the same time they will learn the essentials of the business end of for-profit, non-profit, government and public activities in these areas.

The program, established through a gift from P. Roy Vagelos and his wife, Diana, strives to prepare students for what Vagelos describes as "careers that are grounded in a real knowledge of the life sciences."

As head of research from 1975 to 1985 and then as CEO, Vagelos turned Merck into a pharmaceutical powerhouse through a series of breakthrough drugs and was widely considered one of the most influential leaders in American business.

"You might say that Roy Vagelos is our exemplar.  He is a leader who combined remarkably effective business skills with a fundamental understanding of science," Rea said.

The program will be highly selective, with 25 undergraduates admitted per year beginning with the class entering in the fall of 2006.  In addition to program-specific coursework and intensive faculty mentoring of their laboratory research, students will gain practical experience through paid summer internships in lab and managerial settings.  

The program offers two single degree tracks under a common philosophy: the integration of management and science curricula. Upon graduating, students will receive either a Bachelor of Arts in a science major or a Bachelor of Science in economics.

Many current Penn students with interests in science, medicine and entrepreneurial initiatives in the life sciences now pursue dual degrees, joint degrees or traditional minors to combine life sciences and management.  This new program will streamline and mainstream this option, reducing the total course burden, and create a means of self-identification among students with similar interests.

"Ours is the only program of this type that allows extensive coursework integrating undergraduate management and science curricula," Pauly said.  "I have spent years collaborating with scientists and corporate leaders so I am pleased to help bring to life a program that is so vitally needed."