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In one of the largest contributions ever to higher education, Salt Lake retail mogul L. Samuel Skaggs and his wife, Aline, have quietly donated $100 million to the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

Institute officials said the money will go toward the creation of a new Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology "to tackle the most challenging scientific problems in the fields of molecular design and chemical synthesis, the cornerstones of rational drug design."According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the gift ranks as the ninth-largest contribution to higher education, putting it one spot ahead of Jon M. Huntsman's $90 million gift to the University of Utah.

Huntsman's contribution toward cancer research at the U. was announced as $100 million, but $10 million had been donated earlier and was considered a separate gift. Both the Huntsman and Skaggs gifts are spread over a number of years.

Last month, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City announced that the Skaggs family had donated land and money for a new elementary and high school in Draper. Though the amount of the gift was never announced, figures ranging between $40 million and $60 million have been widely circulated.

The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology will be home to a faculty of 15 newly recruited researchers along with 15 to 20 senior researchers currently affiliated with the Scripps Research Institute.

In announcing the gift last week, Dr. Richard A. Lerner, institute president, said, "The magnitude of the Skaggs' generosity will allow us to reap untold benefits as yet unimaginable."

He said the interdisciplinary team of bio-organic, synthetic and theoretical chemists, molecular and computational biologists, physicists and mathematicians will be able to "realize their full potential at the vital intersection of chemistry and biology."

The group will design and develop new compounds whose molecular structure achieves a precise fit with molecules targeted within the body. Drugs that inhibit or prevent specific cellular attachments may cure various genetic, autoimmune, viral and bacterial diseases, an institute spokesman said.

Lerner also announced that the Skaggs Institute will be headed by Dr. Julius Rebek Jr., the Camille Dreyfus professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to a Scripps Research Institute spokesman, the Skaggs family has provided major support for anti-cancer drug design and development activities at the institute's Department of Chemistry and the Scripps Clinic's Green Cancer Center since the early 1980s.

The Skaggs family funded the construction and expansion of the facility's magnetic resonance spectroscopy center, provided the lead gift toward a planned primary care pavilion at the clinic and contributed to ongoing research.

Skaggs, 73, pioneered the combination of food and drug stores with a common check-out. Today, American Stores operates about 1,600 retail establishment in 26 states with $18.3 billion in annual sales.



Private gifts

10 largest private gifts to higher education since 1967

New York U. - 1994

from Sir Harold Acton

57-acre Italian estate, a collection of Renaissance art and at least $25 million in cash, with a total value estimated by the university of more than $125 million and perhaps as much as $500 million

Louisiana State U. - 1981

from Claude B. (Doc) Pennington

$125 million in stock and natural-gas and oil royalties

U. of Pennsylvania - 1993

from Walter H. Annenberg

$120 million in cash

U. of Southern California - 1993

from Walter H. Annenberg

$120 million in cash

Emory U. - 1979

from Robert W. Woodruff

$105 million in stock

Princeton U. - 1995

from Gordon Y. S. Wu

$100 million in cash and stock

Regent U. - 1992

from the Christian Broadcasting Network

$100 million in interest-bearing note convertible to stock

Rowan College of N.J. - 1992

from Henry M. and Betty L. Rowan

$100 million in stock and cash

The Scripps Research Institute - 1996

from L. Samuel and Aline W. Skaggs

$100 million in cash

U. of Utah - 1995

from Jon M. Huntsman

$90 million in cash

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education