Paul Allen gives $26 million to WSU’s global animal health program

Paul Allen

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has given $26 million to Washington State University’s School of Global Animal Health, the Associated Press reported today, the largest donation WSU has ever received.

That’s a million more than the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave to launch this program a few years ago, which is now being used to construct a new global health animal sciences building that today was named after Allen. Maybe that’s due to the $1 million more or because Allen is a Coug and Gates is not.

And that was about all we learned, even though there should have been much more to say about WSU’s role in studying the animal-to-human disease link.

WSU sent out a very cryptic press release earlier this week hinting at some big announcement and said more details would be forthcoming today.

But today, instead of talking much about the Allen grant and the fascinating field of zoonotics (animal-to-human disease transmission), WSU President Elson Floyd and others used the grant announcement to raise awareness of the university’s fund-raising campaign.

“The world needs big ideas,” Floyd and others kept saying, in speeches and on videos promoting WSU as a generator of large notions. Paul Allen even said it when he made some very brief remarks at the main event held in Seattle.

Floyd did get back on the topic of animal health and its relation to human global health when he mentioned that one of the WSU’s goals for the global animal health program will be to eradicate zoonotic disease.

Wow, that’s a very big idea if he means all zoonotic disease. It’s so big as to be, uh, impossible? Neither the director of WSU’s global animal health program, Guy Palmer, or the head of the university’s global infectious disease section, Terry McElwain, were at the event or available for comment.

WSU’s global animal health progam has three main aims: Detecting and studying emerging diseases, developing vaccines and control of zoonotic diseases.

Allen attended WSU as freshman and sophomore, before dropping out to work as a computer programmer.  The university also announced it is half-way toward an overall goal of raising a billion dollars for its endowment and programs. My colleague Keith Seinfeld also covered the announcement for KPLU.

Postscript: The next day, the Seattle Times had a more detailed story and an editorial about the Allen grant and the goals of WSU’s global animal health program.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.