P. Roy Vagelos

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Roy Vagelos
P. Roy Vagelos JPS 2005 03 10 crop.TIF
Born Pindaros Roy Vagelos
(1929-10-08) October 8, 1929 (age 87)
Fields Biochemistry, Medicine, Pharmaceutical industry
Education University of Pennsylvania (B.A.) Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons (M.D.)
Notable awards Maxwell Finland Award (1991)
Prince Mahidol Award (1997)
Spouse Diana Vagelos

Pindaros Roy Vagelos, better known as P. Roy Vagelos or Roy Vagelos (born October 8, 1929 in Westfield, New Jersey), is an American business executive, who was president and chief executive officer (1985) and chairman (1986) of the American pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. (known as MSD outside the U.S.). He attracted research scientists who developed many major new drugs.

In addition to his business accomplishments, Vagelos is the author of more than 100 scientific papers.[1] He is also on the Board of Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania and has funded three of the university's most elite undergraduate programs: The Vagelos Scholars Program in Molecular Life Sciences (MLS), The Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management (LSM) and The Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (VIPER).


Vagelos grew up during the Depression as a son of Greek immigrants. He attended Rahway High School in his hometown of Rahway, New Jersey.[2] After winning a partial scholarship, he left his family's small restaurant in Rahway, New Jersey, to become a doctor.[3] He majored in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1950. Vagelos later earned an M.D. from Columbia University in 1954.

Vagelos deferred military service while in medical school, but he was obligated to serve a two-year stint as an Army doctor. As a Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons trained surgeon and biochemist, Vagelos obtained a two-year assignment as a research physician at the National Institutes of Health (1956–1966). For Vagelos, it was a fateful turning point. He was associated with Massachusetts General Hospital, Washington University and the Washington University School of Medicine (1966–1975) before joining Merck, Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories in Rahway (president 1976–1984).

The author of more than 100 scientific papers, Vagelos has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

Vagelos donated over 15 million dollars to the University of Pennsylvania to create the Roy and Diana Vagelos Laboratories. These funds also made possible the founding the Vagelos Scholars Program In Molecular Life Sciences, an intensive program offered to University of Pennsylvania freshman. In addition, he donated funds to launch the Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management, a joint program between the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and its College of Arts and Sciences. Later, he founded the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research, supporting the necessity of energy research.

In 1995, Vagelos received the NAS Award for Chemistry in Service to Society and was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame. In 1999, he became a recipient of both the Bower Award for Business Leadership, as well as the Othmer Gold Medal.[4][5]

In 2010, Vagelos, who had earned his medical degree at Columbia University, and his wife, Diana, an alumna of Barnard College at Columbia University, donated 50 million dollars to the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, towards the construction of a new building. Named the Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center, it opened in August 2016.[6]

In 2013, Vagelos was invited to speak at the first annual Stony Brook University Research Your Future Symposium.

River Blindness[edit]

In the mid-1980s, Merck & Co. discovered the drug ivermectin, capable of combatting the parasite that causes river blindness. At the time, the World Health Organization and the World Bank were conducting a campaign against the vector-borne disease in West Africa, and ivermectin was the most important drug in their arsenal. But the newly discovered drug was too expensive for those patients or their governments. Vagelos "wanted to see the drug widely used," so he influenced Merck & Co. to "make needed quantities of the drug available to these governments and patients, at no cost to them, for the treatment of onchocerciasis.” Over two decades, beginning in 1986, the drug reached more than 55 million people. The public health campaign was successful, and now river blindness is no longer a major public health issue in the savannah areas of West Africa.[7]


  1. ^ 55, 1991-92; 1991-92, 55 (1991). The international who's who 1991-92. Europa Publ. ISBN 9780946653706. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  2. ^ Peterson, Iver. "A Company Move That Hasn't Irked the Neighbors", The New York Times, November 15, 1992. Accessed October 19, 2007. "In addition, Merck & Co. donated $40,000 to fund a study on improving Rahway's downtown business district, it paid $126,000 to help cover the cost of paving some roads adjoining its complex, and it put new scientific equipment in Rahway High School, the alma mater of Dr. P. Roy Vagelos, the corporate chairman."
  3. ^ Johnson, Robert. "Looking Back Is Not an Option", The New York Times, November 28, 2004. Accessed October 19, 2007. "He is also promoting his new book "Medicine, Science and Merck" (Cambridge University Press), written with Louis Galambos, describing his path from son of a luncheonette owner in Rahway, N.J., to leader of a pharmaceutical giant."
  4. ^ Reisch, Marc (31 May 1999). "Vagelos Becomes Third Recipient Of Othmer Gold Medal". Chemical & Engineering News. 77 (22): 38. doi:10.1021/cen-v077n022.p038. 
  5. ^ "Othmer Gold Medal". Chemical Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ "Special Programme for Research & Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR)" (PDF). 14 January 2008. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 

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