In Heywood Fralin’s vision of the future, an academic health center fueled by world class research will transform the Roanoke Valley and create a robust economy that will enhance the lives of residents for decades to come.

Fralin, with his wife Cynthia Fralin, along with the Trustees of the Horace G. Fralin Charitable Trust, said Thursday they are donating $50 million to support research at Virginia Tech's biomedical research enterprise In Roanoke in an effort to secure the area’s future.

The gift — twice as large as any single gift to Virginia Tech in its 146-year-history — will support recruitment and retention of world-leading biomedical researchers at the newly renamed Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.

The gift also came with an entreaty by Fralin to local governments and community members to join the effort.

Michael Friedlander
Fralin Biomedical Research Institute Executive Director and Virginia Tech Vice President for Health Sciences and Technology Michael Friedlander speaks during the event on Dec. 6.

“Cynthia and I, and the charitable trust, have bought into the vision that this growing academic health center — fueled by world-class research — is the future of this region,” Fralin said. “It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to benefit every citizen. We are maximizing our effort and we encourage everyone to become a part of the team. We have a jewel here.”

More than 250 people gathered outside at Riverside Circle in Roanoke to hear details from Fralin, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Virginia Tech President Tim Sands, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute Executive Director and Virginia Tech Vice President for Health Sciences and Technology Michael Friedlander, Carilion Clinic President and CEO Nancy Howell Agee, and Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea.

“The Commonwealth of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Carilion Clinic have already invested millions of dollars, but it takes the support of local governments and all of us,” Fralin said. “The building under construction behind us will take $54 million to equip, and it will take millions more to hire the researchers. And there are more buildings to come. Without question, this is a major undertaking. But together we can do this. Let’s get started.”

Sands officially revealed the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute’s name.

Sharon Ramey
Sharon Ramey, a researcher and distinguished scholar at the newly renamed Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, speaks about the work she and other researchers conduct.

“What the Heywood and Cynthia Fralin and the Fralin Charitable Trust have done is historic and it will be transformational,” Sands said. “We believe we can best serve Virginia, and the nation, by advancing as a top global university. The key to that goal is research and discovery. This campus is a centerpiece of our research environment.”

Sands, Northam, and Friedlander stood alongside the Fralins to reveal a plaque naming the institute in honor of Heywood and Cynthia Fralin and the Horace G. Fralin Charitable Trust — “For generously sharing energy, leadership, and resources for biomedical research, economic development, and better health for the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the world.”

Northam said the gift continues the endeavor that began more than 10 years ago when Virginia Tech and Carilion Clinic joined forces to create a medical school and research institute, setting the region on a path to acquire talent and diversifying the economy through medical education and biomedical research.

“One of our goals is to make sure all Virginians have a job and can support themselves and their families,” Northam said. “This is an exciting day for Roanoke and the commonwealth. It takes a village to build something special, and I am so glad the Fralin family has chosen to be a large part of such an important village.”

Friedlander said he is confident that in 10 years, people will look back on the Fralin gift as a watershed moment for breakthroughs, and for the continued success of the city, region, and entire state.

Heywood Fralin speaks with Charlie Phlegar and John Dooley
Heywood Fralin (left) talks with Charlie Phlegar, vice president for Advancement at Virginia Tech, and John Dooley, CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation.

“I hope you share my excitement, and my deep gratitude to the Fralins for their amazing support of what we are doing here,” Friedlander said. “We stand here on a campus that is a centerpiece for an amazing story of rejuvenation and discovery happening in Roanoke right now. Some 10 years ago this was an aging industrial district. Today, it’s exactly the type of thriving, knowledge-economy environment that cities all over our nation are striving to develop.”

As one of the region’s largest employers and a one of the nation’s leading health systems, Carilion Clinic celebrated the Fralin gift to Virginia Tech.

“This will have a direct and powerful impact on the health of our community, and on health outcomes worldwide,” Agee said. “It will spark discoveries that will improve the physical health of people in communities near and far, and it will fuel the transformation of Roanoke’s economy that is positioning our city for such a bright future.”

Sharon Ramey, a research professor and distinguished research scholar at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, talked about two studies, including one that suggests participants who received educational interventions in early childhood show positive effects on social decision-making more than four decades later.

Meanwhile, Ramey detailed how research institute scientists expect to lead the largest clinical trial ever to test a form of high-intensity rehabilitation for infants who have had strokes by the end of the first month of life. The trial is based on a form of high-intensity intervention invented by research institute scientists that helps children overcome severe brain damage and motor impairments.

“I only wish you could meet the hundreds, actually thousands, of children and families we have been fortunate enough to study,” Ramey said. “Not all good ideas prove to be right – but rarely do we give up, and often we discover benefits that force us to re-think the human condition and how to promote health, happiness, productivity, and cooperation.”

Roanoke Mayor Lea talked about how the city has long worked to create new business opportunities and congratulated Fralin, calling him one of Roanoke’s greatest champions.

“Whether he is working in Richmond or Washington, D.C., we know he is working to grow and strengthen our community and our economy,” Lea said. “The city is delighted to support this transition. We are confident that the enhancement of research and education associated with this project will elevate the quality of life in our region and help us all be stronger – and healthier.”

Fralin said helping the community was imperative.

“When Horace developed terminal cancer, we had a serious conversation about the administration of the trust,” Fralin said. “He told me that when making gifts, he wanted to consider two things. First, he wanted gifts to make a significant difference. Second, he wanted the gift to benefit the majority of the citizens of the Roanoke Valley. This gift to the Virginia Tech Foundation fits both charges.”