Michael Moritz, Harriet Heyman Form UC's Largest Endowed Program for PhD Students

Couple Establish New $60M Endowment to Fuel Biomedical Research at UC San Francisco

By Laura Kurtzman

Sequoia Capital Chairman Sir Michael Moritz, KBE, and his wife, Harriet Heyman, in collaboration with UC San Francisco, have kicked off a new endowment with a $60 million contribution to ensure the future of PhD education programs in the basic sciences.

The gift is being made in recognition of the critical role doctoral students play in fueling biomedical research and is the largest endowed program for PhD students in the history of the 10-campus University of California.

Michael Moritz and Harriet Heyman
Sir Michael Moritz  and Harriet Heyman. Photo by Cindy Chew

The UCSF Discovery Fellows Program will fund UCSF’s basic science PhD programs, such as cell biology, biochemistry and neuroscience, which consistently rank among the top biomedical research doctoral programs in the United States. Researchers at UCSF rely on graduate students to bring energy, ideas and new collaborations to their labs, and students are key to recruiting top-flight faculty.

The couple has given $30 million, which UCSF has matched with $25 million of institutional funds and a commitment to raise an additional $5 million from at least 500 donors. The fundraising challenge is intended to instill a new culture of private giving to fund graduate education, so the university can expand its endowment. 

“Graduate students in the life sciences play a vital role in faculty research and innovation and bring curiosity and new ideas to the laboratories where they work,” said UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH.  

“With the freedom to work in multiple labs and across disciplines, they make discoveries at the intersections of research, fostering collaborations as unlikely as they are productive,” she said. “Many of these students work in the labs that are exploring new approaches to understanding cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and more. Their novel perspectives and unbridled curiosity give rise to powerful questions that can alter a lab’s entire course of research. We are deeply grateful to Michael and Harriet for this gift.”

Support the UCSF Discovery Fellows Program

UCSF has made a commitment to raise $5 million from at least 500 donors. Help us reach that goal by making a contribution toward basic science research.

Major research universities like UCSF typically cover the cost of tuition and living expenses for their basic science PhD students. But this model has become more difficult over the past decade as state funding for higher education has dwindled and federal funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has stayed mostly flat.

While the funding to cover students comes from many university sources, UCSF faculty are under increasing pressure to use their federal research grants to support these costs. The endowment will relieve these pressures.

Gift Highlights Importance of Investing in Young Scientists

“We’ve given to educational institutions where there’s an emphasis on excellence, government support has evaporated and there is an urgent need to ensure that smart souls don’t have financial hurdles that prevent them from conducting great work,” said Moritz. “You can’t live in San Francisco without being aware of the role that UCSF plays in the community, and everyone in Silicon Valley knows the debt that the entire biotechnology industry owes to UCSF.” 

Michael Moritz and Harriet Heyman signing agreement
Sir Michael Moritz, Harriet Heyman and UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann sign the gift agreement at Mission Bay. Photo by Cindy Chew
group toasting champagne in an office
From left, Sir Michael Moritz, Harriet Heyman, Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, John Ford, vice chancellor for University Development and Alumni Relations, and Elizabeth Watkins, dean of the Graduate Division and vice chancellor of Student Academic Affairs, celebrate the support of PhD students engaged in basic science research. Photo by Cindy Chew

UCSF biochemist Herbert Boyer and Stanford’s Stanley Cohen jointly discovered how to create recombinant DNA, which involves splicing genes from one organism into another. Boyer went on to co-found Genentech, Inc., which launched the biotechnology industry, pioneering the use of these techniques to create powerful new drugs.

Moritz, who is chairman of Sequoia Capital, in Menlo Park, said he and Heyman chose to give to UCSF’s basic science programs because of their enormous potential for future payoffs. Heyman is an author and a former editor at The New York Times who has written for numerous publications. She also serves as a volunteer in a lab at UCSF.

Sequoia Capital made important early investments in Apple, Cisco, Google, Yahoo! and PayPal, and Moritz said he sees parallels to venture capital in his and his wife’s donation to UCSF’s educational enterprise.

“In both cases, the money should be a massive amplifier,” he said. “For an institution like UCSF to keep setting the pace of patient care requires unrelenting investment in its scientific foundation, and that starts with the PhD programs. Without its scientific core and the energy of young scientists, UCSF would never have amounted to anything and the advances and discoveries made here have rippled around the world. UCSF is one of the gems of California.”

UCSF faculty have received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries regarding cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, telomeres and the telomerase enzyme and stem cells. The university ranked second among all institutions last year in the highly competitive biomedical research grants awarded by the NIH, and was the top public recipient, while its School of Medicine led all schools in NIH grants nationwide.

Faculty Advisory Board

The Faculty Advisory Board is charged with advising the Dean of the Graduate Division on the Discovery Fellows Program design and selection of the fellows. Members also will serve as ambassadors within UCSF and to the community at large for graduate student support.


Clinical Council

Recognizing that basic science research plays a key role in UCSF’s clinical excellence, a group of department chairs has stepped forward to form a Clinical Council to provide advocacy and fundraising support to the Discovery Fellows Program. 


UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy, a graduate division with nationally renowned programs in basic biomedical, translational and population sciences, as well as a preeminent biomedical research enterprise and two top-ranked hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

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