Powell Family Professorships: An Investment in the Future

Washington University Trustee Mike Powell is passionate about the future of biotechnology. He holds a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Toronto and did postdoctoral studies at the University of California before launching his career in pharmaceutical drug development and biotechnology—first at Syntex/Roche, and later at Genentech. He is the author of 90 peer-reviewed scientific publications, mainly in the areas of chemistry, drug delivery, and immunology.

For the past 20 years, Dr. Powell has invested with his venture capital group, Sofinnova Ventures, based in San Francisco. He and his partners have built dozens of biotech companies, many of which have become leaders in oncology, neurology, and other fields developing life-saving drugs.

“Washington University has terrific people and programs in biology and immunology,” says Dr. Powell, who serves on the university’s National Research Advisory Council. “It has the potential to become a world leader in biotech and have tremendous impact on people’s lives. Tana and I hope to further the university’s progress in bringing discoveries to the marketplace by bringing more chemistry into WashU.”

To that end, Dr. Powell and his wife, Tana, an accomplished artist, have made a generous $8 million commitment to match gifts for endowed professorships in the Department of Chemistry in Arts & Sciences and related disciplines.

“Chemistry is the other factor needed to achieve breakthroughs in biotech,” says Dr. Powell, a past adviser to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and past board president of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition. “Tana and I decided to help build the next generation of leading scientists in chemistry at Washington University. The return should be many times the value of our investment.”

Tana Powell agrees. “We are excited about the groundbreaking work that is being done at this university. Our support for professorships will help attract great new faculty, and that will benefit students as well.”

“Recruiting and retaining outstanding faculty members—both distinguished scientists and dynamic young researchers—is a key priority of Leading Together, and establishing new endowed professorships is critical to this effort,” says Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “The Powells’ visionary support for new professorships in chemistry and related fields will help us build on our strong tradition of scientific achievement and ensure future discoveries that will benefit our nation and our world. We are grateful for their leadership at Washington University.”

The Powells have served as co-chairs of the Parents Fund and as chairs of the Parents Council. Their daughter, Landis, graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in geochemistry in Arts & Sciences.

Tana Powell developed her career as an art director, graphic designer, and illustrator in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her paintings range from abstract portraits to large interpretive landscapes, often inspired by her own aerial photographs.