Investing in Future Outcomes

Chris Redlich

Sometimes in life, there is a chance to circle back to the path not taken. For Christopher Redlich, the path not taken was a career in science.

“I was always interested in the sciences, and fairly successful in mathematics, physics, and chemistry. That’s the way my mind works, even though I went in a whole different direction in my business career,” he says, referring to his family shipping business, Marine Terminals Corp.

When he retired, Chris decided to focus his energy on how best to improve human health and promote change in the health-care system. He joined the Stanford Health Care Board of Directors and contributed to the Stanford community by being a lead donor to the new Stanford Hospital. He then began to think about how he might make an enduring contribution that would continue to make a difference in perpetuity. So that he could retain financial flexibility in case his circumstances changed, Chris decided to include a provision in his estate plan that would significantly help future generations.

Next, he considered how his bequest could make the biggest impact in the area of human health. He pursued creating a national science prize, but realized it would involve an administrative burden that would be difficult to manage. He then learned of an initiative at Stanford Medicine that addressed the critical need for funding basic research.

Basic scientists, in striving to discover the underlying laws of nature, ask and answer fundamental questions: How do cells communicate with one another? How does the brain process information? How, from a single cell, does a complex organism develop?

Basic science builds a foundation for understanding how life systems operate—mechanisms that are key to under- standing disease and developing effective treatments. To find out what goes wrong when a person becomes sick, biological puzzles and mysteries need to be solved.

Chris understands that today’s health care has been shaped by the power of basic science research—and many current biomedical innovations have been made possible because of fundamental research conducted at Stanford decades ago.

Several Nobel Laureates attended an event celebrating Chris’ generous gift to Stanford in March 2017. L-R: Dean Lloyd Minor, Brian Kobilka, Paul Berg, Chris Redlich, Andrew Fire, and Thomas Südhof.

Recombinant DNA technology and genetic engineering helped create the biotechnology revolution, resulting in new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tests for a multitude of diseases. Research into harnessing the immune system has led to the development of successful cancer chemotherapies and immunotherapies based on knowledge of molecular targets; the first monoclonal antibody approved by the FDA to treat cancer resulted from Stanford research. And by uncovering the workings of G-protein-coupled receptors, which serve as one of the main methods of molecular communication—regulating the beating of our hearts, the workings of our brains, and nearly every other physiological process—Stanford researchers have shed light on receptors that are targeted by about 40 percent of all prescription drugs.

Inspired by the potential of basic science, Chris decided that a significant portion of his estate would be devoted to establishing an endowment at Stanford to fund basic science discovery.

“I put a lot of thought and research into how my bequest at Stanford could be put to the best use,” he says. “Young faculty and postdocs have the fluidity and plasticity of mind to have lots of great ideas running in their heads. A little daydreaming goes a long way. Albert Einstein basically daydreamed his way into the theory of relativity.”

When Chris’s estate gift eventually comes to Stanford, a competitive process will provide awards that allow young faculty to come to Stanford with an idea and pursue that idea, wherever it leads, throughout their time at Stanford.

“The concept of rapid development and/or failure of ideas also appealed to me— quick prototyping, quick testing of the marketplace. Some fail, some succeed. But you get to better products faster that way,” says Chris. “This would turn the whole process on its head.”

History has shown that, when allowed the freedom to explore ideas, basic scientists often arrive at unexpected discoveries that can relieve suffering: new targets for antibiotics, new ways of imaging tumors, gene arrays for examining the readout of every gene, new understanding of pathogens, isolation of stem cells, new approaches to tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. The list goes on.

“We’re still in a fledgling period of biomedical research—we just don’t yet understand the complexity of the human body. We’re really, really just beginning,” Chris says. “I want to contribute to future outcomes where we can arrest a disease before it becomes a disease, or act on a condition so the outcome is desirable as opposed to just OK. I want better outcomes.

“Hopefully, my bequest will attract other like-minded people to give through their estate or with a current gift. Basically, it’s an investment in future outcomes that otherwise would not have been achieved.”