Program History


The Searle Scholars Program was founded in 1980. It is funded through the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust established by the estates of Mr. and Mrs. John G. Searle. John G. Searle was the grandson of the founder of the world-wide pharmaceutical company, G.D. Searle & Company.

The Company

G.D. Searle & Company's mission was "to bring to the market innovative, value-added healthcare products that satisfy unmet medical needs." The company was incorporated in 1908 and originally sold a variety of products directly to physicians. Over the years, the company expanded into research and development and achieved a reputation for developing first-of-its-kind, quality products. Well known examples include Metamucil (first bulk laxative), Dramamine (first motion-sickness medication), Enovid (the first birth control "pill") and Aldactone (a calcium channel blocker for hypertension). G.D. Searle is also known for its discovery of aspartame which it introduced to the market under the brand names Equal and NutraSweet. In 1985 G.D. Searle & Company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Monsanto Co. During this period, G.D. Searle launched other well-known products including Ambien and Celebrex. In 1999 Monsanto and Pharmacia Upjohn, Inc. merged, creating a new company named Pharmacia Corporation. As a result of this merger, G.D. Searle & Co. ceased to exist as a separate company.

A Family Affair

For the Searle family, G.D. Searle & Company was far more than a name on a company shingle. From its modest beginnings through its growth into a multi-million dollar enterprise, the company remained a family-run concern for four generations.

The company's founder, Gideon Daniel Searle, was born in 1846 in Deerfield Indiana. After serving in the Civil War, Gideon attended commercial (business) college in Chicago. He returned to Indiana where he eventually ran several drugstores. Later, he formed a partnership with Frank Hereth as manufacturing chemists. The two partners first set up shop in Omaha, Nebraska in 1888. In 1890 they moved their offices to Chicago. The partnership dissolved in 1905 and Gideon decided to go it alone, incorporating as G.D. Searle & Company in 1908.

After Gideon suffered a stroke in 1909, management of the company passed on to Gideon's son Claude, who was a practicing physician at the time. During Claude's years with the company, G.D. Searle's main activities were the production and development of pharmaceuticals already in existence. Although Claude did bring on a research chemist to head the company's laboratory, the company's focus didn't shift to original research until Claude's son, John G. (Jack) Searle took over the reins of the business.

Jack Searle studied Pharmacy at the University of Michigan and joined the business as a buyer after his graduation in 1923. As Jack worked his way up the company ranks he introduced a new strategy to narrow the company's product line to more specialized items. Research into new products became a primary focus as the company sought to fill the niches left by other pharmaceutical firms. The strategy succeeded and the company achieved its first $1million in sales in 1936. Jack became President of the company that same year. The Company moved its headquarters to Skokie, Illinois in 1942 where Jack had a state-of-the art research laboratory and manufacturing plant built.

Jack's sons Daniel (Dan) and William (Bill) joined the business in the early 1950's and his son-in-law, Wes Dixon, came on board in 1954. When Jack retired in 1966, Dan assumed the company presidency. In 1977 Donald Rumsfeld was brought in as the first non-family member President and CEO.

Searle Scholars Program — Innovative, High Risk/ High Reward Research

The Searle Family has maintained a strong interest in innovative biomedical research and has pursued this interest through philanthropic initiatives. The Searle Scholars Program is one of these initiatives. In his will, Jack Searle expressed the wish that certain funds be used to support ". . . research in medicine, chemistry and the biological sciences." In 1980, Dan, Bill, and Wes, acting as Consultants to the Trustees of the Trusts established under the wills of Mr. & Mrs. John G. Searle, recommended the development of a program of support for young biomedical scientists. This idea evolved into the Searle Scholars Program. The program was designed to support the independent research of outstanding individuals who are in the first or second year of their first appointment at the assistant professor level, and whose current appointment is a tenure-track position. Grants are made to selected academic institutions. The program began in 1980 at the Chicago Community Trust, under the direction of Cedric Chernick and the first grants were made in 1981.

In 1995, the Searle Family established Kinship Foundation, a private operating foundation. The Foundation began to provide administrative support for the Searle Scholars Program in 1996. That same year, Cedric Chernick retired and Douglas Fambrough assumed the role of Scientific Director, which he continues to hold today.

Over the course of the program, the Searle Scholars award amount has been increased four times, from its initial level of $50,000 per year for three years in 1981, to its current amount of $100,000 per year for three years. The number of institutions invited to participate in the program has also increased over the years and today numbers 168. In total, 617 Scholars have been named and over $174 million has been awarded. Searle family members continue to show a direct, personal interest in the program by participating in Searle Scholars meeting events each year where they learn first hand of the Scholars' research achievements and get to know the Scholars themselves.

-April 2019