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Grateful doctor gives millions to medical school

/ Source: The Associated Press

A microbiology professor who fled the Nazis as a child, then made a fortune inventing a drug for rheumatoid arthritis plans to give the New York University School of Medicine a $105 million donation.

Dr. Jan T. Vilcek, who has been on the faculty at NYU’s medical school for 40 years, said he felt grateful to the institution for nurturing his research.

“I feel indebted to the School of Medicine and want to do as much as I can to help further enhance the basic sciences at this great institution, and also help to secure its role in shaping the future of biomedical science,” Vilcek said in a statement Friday.

The gift, which the medical school said is the largest it has ever received, will endow professorships and fellowships, support research and faculty recruiting efforts, improve facilities and enhance programs in basic sciences.

The donation will consist of royalties Vilcek has earned from the sale of Remicade, an anti-inflammatory agent that, in addition to treating rheumatoid arthritis, can help people with Crohn’s disease, ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis.

Vilcek and an adjunct professor at the school, Junming Le, developed an antibody that is the basis for the drug, then collaborated with a biotechnology company now owned by Johnson & Johnson to turn it into a medicine.

Because the total amount of the royalties generated by Remicade sales is still unknown, the gift could eventually exceed $105 million, the medical school said.

Vilcek, 72, was born in Bratislava, Slovakia, to a Jewish family that eluded capture during the Holocaust. After the war, he became a doctor in what was then communist Czechoslovakia. He came to the United States in 1965 and began working at NYU as an assistant microbiology professor.

NYU, which is in the midst of a campaign to raise $2.5 billion in new donations, said it will name a floor in a new research facility and several new labs after Vilcek and his wife, Marica Vilcek.