The Horace G. Fralin Charitable Trust and Heywood and Cynthia Fralin will donate a record $50 million to Virginia Tech to support research at the newly renamed Fralin Biomedical Research Institute within the evolving Virginia Tech Carilion Academic Health Center in Roanoke.

The most generous donation in the 146-year-history of Virginia’s research land-grant university will support recruiting and retaining world-leading biomedical researchers, and is twice as large as any other single gift to Virginia Tech.

“The Fralin family’s remarkable generosity highlights the growth and success of the VTC Health Sciences and Technology Campus, its important biomedical research, and extraordinary faculty,” university President Tim Sands said. “This historic and inspiring gift to name the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute will broaden our research profile dramatically and elevate Roanoke’s ability to compete and thrive in a knowledge-based economy. Private support such as this significantly advances our regional and global impact as we bring together research, medical education, and clinical care through the VTC Academic Health Center.”

“I appreciate that Virginia Tech and the commonwealth have made such a major investment in the City of Roanoke and the region,” said long-term Roanoke businessman and philanthropist Heywood Fralin, who is chairman of Medical Facilities of America and a powerful advocate for higher education and economic development. “I believe that it’s the responsibility of everybody to give back to your community and to leave things better than you found them. I hope many others will come forward to support this emerging academic health center, because when it comes to Roanoke’s future, there is no bigger story.”

The record gift is in keeping with the Fralin family’s legacy of making an impact on Virginia Tech and higher education. Heywood Fralin’s older brother, the late Horace Fralin, and his wife, Ann, were the namesakes of Virginia Tech’s Fralin Life Science Institute. Heywood Fralin is a former member of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors; a former rector of the board of visitors for his alma mater, the University of Virginia; and the current chair of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

“Heywood Fralin is a tireless champion of education as a means of empowering our state’s citizens and communities,” said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. “The Roanoke Valley and all of Virginia have benefitted from his advocacy and philanthropy, and with this gift, he will help solidify the region's leadership on cutting-edge biomedical research and innovation.”

Nancy Howell Agee is president and CEO of Carilion Clinic, a leading health care organization headquartered in Roanoke.

“This significant gift to Virginia Tech will improve lives and set the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC on a trajectory for future success,” Agee said. “Carilion Clinic is dedicated to improving the health and health care for our communities across the commonwealth. The expansion of Virginia Tech in Roanoke — and the commitment of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute to tackle the big problems in health care and find solutions — will serve as a catalyst to fast-track discoveries that will ultimately benefit our citizens across the commonwealth and beyond.”

Michael Friedlander is the executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and vice president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech.

“We are adding a world-class building to our health science campus, but it takes even more than that to land high-quality research teams,” Friedlander said. “We must work hard to retain the exceptional researchers that have been the backbone of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and work even harder to recruit additional leading researchers in the fiercely competitive areas that are the focus of our institute. The Fralin family’s support opens up exciting new opportunities for us. Thanks to them, we can retain and recruit the very best researchers and provide the critical facilities and instrumentation to enable their transformative research programs.”

Construction of a $90 million, 139,000-gross-square-foot Biomedical Research Addition building at the the VTC Health Sciences and Technology Campus is underway, expected to finish in spring 2020. The Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and the VTC School of Medicine, which became Virginia Tech’s newest college this past summer, are also located on the campus. The campus’ economic impact in Virginia was $214 million in 2017 and is projected to more than double, approaching half-a-billion dollars per year, by 2026.

Nearly 1,700 people worked at the Health Sciences and Technology Campus in fiscal 2017. The number is expected to rise by 85 percent, to nearly 3,150, by 2026, according to a study by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service’s Center for Economic and Policy Studies.

Meanwhile, the campus’s overall impact will be far greater. The campus is part of the broader Roanoke Innovation Corridor, where start-up companies and other enterprises are emerging as groundbreaking research is translated into real-world applications.

Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea said his city is fortunate to have highly engaged partners like Heywood Fralin and Virginia Tech President Tim Sands.

“Like so many mid-size cities, we were transitioning from an industrial economy to the digital age,” Lea said. “Today, Roanoke is considered one of the leading digital cities in the nation and has been for a number of years, to the point where it is a model for other cities trying to make that forward transition.The Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, the VTC School of Medicine, and Carilion Clinic are big reasons why. Carilion Clinic and Virginia Tech generate high-paying jobs and attract brilliant professionals and students from around the world to our city. The Fralin family gift to Virginia Tech will accelerate the growth in all of these positive trends.”

Fully realized, the VTC Academic Health Center will draw upon the expanding medical research enterprise at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, the innovative medical education at the VTC School of Medicine, the 21st-century health care delivery and clinical training at Carilion Clinic, and other related health and medical entities to transform the way health care is delivered through a commitment to continuous discovery. By combining the strengths of Virginia Tech and Carilion, the center will advance the quality of health, health care, health education, and significant research that drives economic prosperity to make an impact in the Roanoke community and the world.

“Congratulations to Virginia Tech, Carilion, and the Fralin family on this wonderful announcement,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “The research institute has been transforming a city I love, the Star City of Roanoke, and the entire region. I was proud as governor to work with leaders in Roanoke, at Virginia Tech, and at Carilion to get the ball rolling on expanding Virginia Tech’s and Carilion’s presence in Roanoke, and to watch it develop over the years has been remarkable. This generous gift will do wonders for medical research and also the economic development of Roanoke and the New River Valley.”

Sands said the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute has an entrepreneurial culture that encourages researchers to take discoveries to market. That process is already underway with companies such as Acomhal and BEAM Diagnostics.

“Our expanding biomedical research portfolio prioritizes research that solves problems, improves lives and serves the public good,” Sands said. “Our researchers want to see their discoveries make a difference for people and are ready to work with industry and clinical partners to make it happen. They are already spinning off promising businesses in Roanoke, and thanks to the Fralin family, that’s going to increase.”

The record gift comes at time of dramatically increased support, overall, by donors to Virginia Tech, which is fueling major initiatives throughout the university. Virginia Tech has raised $100 million or more in each of the past three fiscal years, including $100.4 million in 2015-16, $162.3 million in 2016-17, and $153.6 million in 2017-18. The university’s fiscal years run from July 1 through June 30.

Heywood Fralin described his family’s transformational gift as a vote of confidence in Virginia Tech, the research institute that now bears his family’s name, and the bright future in store for Roanoke.

“I look forward to the many discoveries that will emerge as we grow and become a leading academic health center for biomedical research in the commonwealth,” Heywood Fralin said. “The City of Roanoke will evolve dramatically over the next 25 years. I am excited to be one of many catalysts in this transformation that will create a thriving economy in Southwest Virginia. We will need many more to make this new economy as great as it can be.

— Written by Albert Raboteau