Program History



The Searle Scholars Program was founded in 1980. It is funded through the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust established by the estates of Mr. and Mrs. John G. Searle. John G. Searle was the grandson of the founder of the global pharmaceutical company, G.D. Searle & Company.

The Company

G.D. Searle & Company was one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in the healthcare field for more than ninety years, with the mission "to bring to the market innovative, value-added healthcare products that satisfy unmet medical needs." The company was incorporated in 1908 and originally sold a variety of products directly to physicians. Over the years, the company expanded into research and development and achieved a reputation for developing first-of-its-kind, quality products. Well known examples include Metamucil (first bulk laxative), Dramamine (first motion-sickness medication), Enovid (the first birth control "pill") and Aldactone (a calcium channel blocker for hypertension). G.D. Searle is also known for its discovery of aspartame which it introduced to the market under the brand names Equal and NutraSweet. The company was sold in 1985.

A Family Affair

For the Searle family, G.D. Searle & Company was far more than a name on a company shingle. From its modest beginnings through its growth into a multimillion dollar enterprise, the company remained a family-run concern for four generations.

The company's founder, Gideon D. Searle, was born in 1846 in Deerfield, Indiana. After serving in the Civil War, he attended commercial (business) college in Chicago. He returned to Indiana where he eventually ran several drugstores. Later, he formed a partnership with Frank Hereth as manufacturing chemists. The two partners first set up shop in Omaha, Nebraska in 1888. In 1890 they moved their offices to Chicago. The partnership dissolved in 1905 and Gideon Searle decided to go it alone, incorporating as G.D. Searle & Company in 1908.

The family pharmaceutical business was run by many great leaders – from Gideon D. Searle to his son, Claude H. Searle, followed by his son, John G. (Jack) Searle. The company moved its headquarters to Skokie, Illinois in 1942 where Jack Searle had a state-of-the art research laboratory and manufacturing plant built. Research into new products became a primary focus as G.D. Searle & Company sought to fill the niches left by other pharmaceutical companies and was led by the next generation of the family.  G.D. Searle & Company became part of the Fortune 500 in 1968 and was eventually sold in 1985.

Searle Scholars Program — Innovative, High Risk/ High Reward Research

The Searle Family has maintained a strong interest in innovative biomedical research and has pursued this interest through philanthropic initiatives. The Searle Scholars Program is one of these initiatives. In his will, John G. Searle expressed the wish that certain funds be used to support ". . . research in medicine, chemistry and the biological sciences." In 1980, the family recommended the development of a program of support for young biomedical scientists. This idea evolved into the Searle Scholars Program. The program was designed to support the independent research of outstanding individuals who are in the first or second year of their first appointment at the assistant professor level, and whose current appointment is a tenure-track position. Grants are made to selected academic institutions. The program began in 1980 at the Chicago Community Trust and the first grants were made in 1981.

In 1995, the Searle Family established Kinship Foundation, a private operating foundation. The Foundation began to provide administrative support for the Searle Scholars Program in 1996.  

Over the course of the program, the Searle Scholars award amount has been increased four times, from its initial level of $50,000 per year for three years in 1981, to its current amount of $100,000 per year for three years. The number of institutions invited to participate in the program has also increased over the years and today numbers 168. In total, 632 Scholars have been named and over $143 million has been awarded. Searle family members continue to show a direct, personal interest in the program by participating in Searle Scholars meeting events each year where they learn first hand of the Scholars' research achievements and get to know the Scholars themselves.