Philip Saunders conversed with members of the University after being honored for his $10 million contribution to the URMC. Courtesy of

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Philip Saunders made history with his donation of $10 million to the neuromuscular disease program of the UR Medical Center — one of the largest gifts in the institution’s history.

The idea behind this donation had been under active consideration for the past 10 years. Saunders has long been a supporter of URMC’s groundbreaking efforts in neuromedicine, as reflected in his previous donation of more than $1 million to the program’s research. Upon seeing how his gift had greatly accelerated the understanding and possible treatments of myotonic dystrophy — the most common form of adult muscular dystrophy — Saunders decided to increase his contribution to the medical center when the time was right.

Neurologist and Director of the Neuromuscular Disease Center Richard Moxley was the first to hear about the endowment. Moxley met Saunders in 1998, when he treated Saunder’s daughter for Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and they’ve developed a friendship ever since. It was also then that the Saunders family’s involvement in the neuromuscular research efforts began.

“We have targeted myotonic dystrophy because it has the greatest promise of being a disease that we can reverse,” Moxley said.

“We have had ideas for a number of years about the possible molecular mechanism that leads to the manifestations in myotonic dystrophy.”

Over the years, the Saunders family would visit the laboratories and acquaint themselves with the faculty and staff. Moxley and Saunders would also meet up once a year for a formal review of the research progress, during which they would discuss new opportunities and challenges for the research.

The major portion of Saunders gift will fund two endowed professorships and a Fellowship Training

Program in this area. The gift came at an opportune time, as URMC currently needs to recruit more world-class clinicians for its research needs, as well as to train young researchers.

It will also help retain their current neuromuscular clinicians, all of whom are highly qualified in their field.
“Our state and national economy is under severe stress,” Moxley said. “We need to pursue the opportunities that our research has discovered. Saunders gift makes it possible for us to pursue this goal and to pursue it more rapidly.”

What’s more, some of the funds will go to cancer research, including URMC’s proposed research collaboration with Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo.

Saunders also made his donation a special dedication to the veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Having grown up in the period between the Korean War and the Vietnam War, Saunders felt grateful to those who made sacrifices in past and current conflicts.

“He feels that their sacrifices have allowed him the freedom and opportunity to become the remarkably successful businessman and entrepreneur that he is.” Moxley said.

The funds from this donation will accrue over the next 10 years and URMC will see the increasing benefits of Saunders’ endowment, as well as his personal interest in developing the field of neuromedicine.

Lim is a member of the class of 2014.

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