Regeneron Named as Science Talent Search Sponsor

President Obama with 2015 Science Talent Search finalists. ENLARGE
President Obama with 2015 Science Talent Search finalists. Photo: PETE SOUZA/WHITE HOUSE/ZUMA PRESS

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. REGN -0.81 % was selected as the new named sponsor of the Science Talent Search, making the biotechnology company the third corporate benefactor of the iconic 75-year-old high-school science competition once widely known as “the Westinghouse.”

Regeneron, whose top two executives are alumni of the Science Talent Search competition, was selected from among some 50 companies and philanthropies that initially expressed interest. Regeneron succeeds Intel Corp. INTC 1.06 % , which said last September it decided to drop its sponsorship.

The Society for Science & and the Public, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that owns and manages the program, is announcing Regeneron’s selection Thursday at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

The company has committed $ 100 million to the program over the next 10 years, about double its current funding. “They are making a big national statement that science is absolutely critical to our economy and also to the next generation of talent in this country,” said Maya Ajmera, president and chief executive of the society.

Regeneron’s George D. Yancopoulos, a top-10 finalist in the talent search in 1976. ENLARGE
Regeneron’s George D. Yancopoulos, a top-10 finalist in the talent search in 1976. Photo: Society for Science & the Public

Founded in 1942 and funded by the former Westinghouse Electric Corp. for more than a half-century, the Science Talent Search has provided more than $ 25 million in awards to over 8,500 students, many of whom have subsequently made important contributions to science.

Alumni of the competition include 17 MacArthur Foundation fellows, 11 National Medal of Science winners and 12 Nobel laureates.

“The talent search has been the symbol of greatness to come in American science,” said Rush Holt, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which isn’t involved with the program.

Regeneron is the first life-sciences company to sponsor the program. “First it was Westinghouse, then it was Intel, and now it’s a biotech company,” said Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the natural history museum who is hosting Wednesday’s announcement. “That’s quite a trajectory.”

Both Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron’s founder, president and chief executive officer, and George D. Yancopoulos, its founding scientist and chief science officer, were participants in the competition, a key reason the company pursued sponsorship.

As a student at Bronx High School of Science, Dr. Yancopoulos recalls getting up at 3 a.m. to get to school by 5 a.m. to meet a teacher who helped him with his projects. Initially, his plan was to try to regenerate neurons, but when that proved too difficult, he switched to experimenting with single-celled organisms called blepharisma that had distinctive heads, mouths and digestive systems.

“You could damage that and it would grow back over the course of a few hours,” he said. He was a top-10 finalist in the talent search in 1976.

Dr. Schleifer was a semifinalist for a geometry project in 1970.

News of Intel’s decision to drop the program broke last September—as it happened on a day Regeneron’s board was meeting. Dr. Schleifer and Dr. Yancopoulos discussed approaching the board about going after the sponsorship. They didn’t have to ask.

Regeneron’s board “unanimously directed company management to pursue this opportunity,” according to a letter board members sent in support of the company’s applications.

“Having benefited from it, we feel it’s our responsibility to take this on,” Dr. Yancopoulos said.

The $ 100 million will double total financial awards given annually to students and their participating schools to $ 3.1 million from $ 1.6 million. The award for the first place winner will increase to $ 250,000 from $ 150,000.

Over 10 years, $ 30 million will be dedicated to training educators and extending “outreach and equity” to broaden and increase the students who are able to compete. “We know there are underserved kids who are doing research but don’t compete,” Ms. Ajmera said. “They need some extra help to increase their confidence and develop better writing and communication skills” to explain their research.

Competition for the coming year’s Regeneron Science Talent Search opens in June with applications due in November. Judges select 300 “top young scientists” from an expected 2,000 applicants, from whom 40 are selected as finalists. They travel to Washington for a week in March where they present their projects and are interviewed by scientists for the final judging.

Write to Ron Winslow at [email protected] US Business

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