Press Release

With a $50 Million Gift, USC and UC San Diego Join Forces in Alzheimer’s Research

A transformative donation from the Epstein Family Foundation will accelerate Alzheimer’s research at the two universities in a push to find better treatments and a cure

Leigh Hopper and Jade Griffin January 24, 2022
Alzheimer’s disease has touched the family of Daniel and Phyllis Epstein: Dan’s identical twin brother, David, suffered from Alzheimer’s for 15 years and passed away recently as a result of the disease. (Photo/Courtesy of Daniel and Phyllis Epstein)

(Originally posted on USC News)

A joint gift to USC and the University of California, San Diego, totaling $50 million from the Epstein Family Foundation will drive Alzheimer’s research and accelerate the search for treatments and a cure.

The generous donation establishes the Epstein Family Alzheimer’s Research Collaboration at USC and UC San Diego. The gift will be split evenly, with $25 million going to each institution. The funding will support existing research at each university and will spark new collaborative efforts to discover effective therapies for Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects more than 6 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts have projected the number of Americans diagnosed with the disease will more than double to 13 million by 2060, barring breakthroughs that prevent, slow or cure the condition.

This disease also has touched the family of Daniel “Dan” and Phyllis Epstein: Dan’s identical twin brother, David, suffered from Alzheimer’s for 15 years and passed away recently as a result of the disease. With their gift, the Epsteins hope to drive research that can change the trajectory of the sobering statistics.

“We experienced first-hand the significant challenges that come with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dan Epstein. “The fact is that there are no viable treatments for this condition, so we are very pleased to serve as a catalyst in moving Alzheimer’s research ahead and hopefully achieving something noteworthy in the not-too-distant future.”

Leveraging the strengths of both universities in the field of Alzheimer’s research, the gift will help compress the time between study design, patient recruitment and clinical trials, in hopes of expediting the discovery of better treatments and, ultimately, a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

“With this extraordinary gift, Dan and Phyllis Epstein are making a dramatic investment in a better future for perhaps millions of Americans coping with Alzheimer’s disease and those at risk of developing the disease in the years to come,” USC President Carol L. Folt and UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla said in a joint statement.

“By establishing this visionary collaboration between USC and UC San Diego, the Epsteins are forging a bond between two Alzheimer’s research powerhouses that has the potential to transform the landscape of treatment for this devastating disease.”

‘One plus one equals three’

In teaming up the institutions, Dan Epstein expressed his belief that the new collaboration can create something greater than the sum of its parts.

“With the extraordinary talent at USC and UC San Diego, it seemed as though we could take one plus one and make it three with this collaboration,” said Epstein. “When researchers are interacting and sharing ideas, it can lead to new solutions that they might not have originally thought about. When two stellar universities are working together to achieve the same goal, great things will come out of it.”

Examples of the gift’s impact include enabling USC’s Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute — led by founding director Paul Aisen, professor of neurology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC — to work with the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute to pair biological samples and brain images, enriching the research value of both and making those resources available to researchers around the world. Data are typically not linked with specimens because of the costs and the complexities of ensuring participant confidentiality.

At UC San Diego, the funds will drive research led by the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study — under the leadership of Howard Feldman, dean of Alzheimer’s Disease Research, professor of neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine and a neurologist — and will catalyze Alzheimer’s disease research efforts across the UC San Diego campus. The gift will support two primary areas of focus: gene therapy for Alzheimer’s disease and a “powder for pennies” (P4P) program, designed to expedite the testing of existing or repurposed drugs and natural products for its treatment.

A priority of P4P will be the development and implementation of early phase “smart” clinical trials that more quickly assess the potential of investigated drugs and compounds. Promising compounds would then be forwarded to USC for phase III trials or larger-scale investigation.

Beyond the Epstein’s initial $50 million investment to establish the Epstein Family Alzheimer’s Research Collaboration, the couple has challenged USC and UC San Diego to raise an additional $25 million each to support Alzheimer’s research.

“It is just a matter of time before most people will have someone in their families develop dementia or Alzheimer’s, yet there are no viable treatments beyond temporary measures to delay the onset,” said Epstein. “If, together, we can double our initial investment, just imagine the impact that we can have in creating real solutions for this condition.”

About the Epsteins

Dan Epstein is the founder of the ConAm Group, a nationwide apartment owner/developer/property management company headquartered in San Diego. He has had a distinguished career as a real estate entrepreneur. Phyllis Epstein is active in the community on many leadership boards, including the San Diego Symphony and the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center.

The Epsteins are longtime supporters of both USC and UC San Diego. Dan earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering in 1962 and has served as a trustee of USC since 2002. He also is a member of the executive committee of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate and chair of the advisory committee of the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Phyllis Epstein, a graduate of UCLA, is a board member of the USC Roski School of Art and Design and USC Shoah Foundation — The Institute for Visual History and Education. Both of their children graduated from USC.

The couple has contributed substantial gifts including donations to establish the USC Epstein Family Alumni Center, the USC Epstein Family Center for Sports Medicine and the Epstein Family Plaza at USC Viterbi.

At UC San Diego, the Epsteins are members of the Chancellor’s Executive Advisory Cabinet for the Campaign for UC San Diego, a universitywide comprehensive fundraising effort concluding June 30. Phyllis Epsteins is also a trustee of the UC San Diego Foundation and serves as the chair of the Donor Relations and Stewardship Committee. Dan Epsteins is a trustee emeritus of the UC San Diego Foundation. Recently, the Epstein Family Amphitheater was named in honor of a $10 million gift, and they have established endowed faculty fellowships and chairs at the Rady School of Management, in addition to supporting the School of Global Policy and Strategy, Arts and Humanities, student scholarships and more.

Alzheimer’s Research: How You Can Help:

To learn more about how you can make a difference in Alzheimer’s disease research at the two universities: