With fanfare and festivity, USC Mann School marks a new era

By Leigh Hopper

With an explosion of streamers and a crowd of more than 300 well-wishers, USC President Carol L. Folt, Board of Trustees Chair Suzanne Nora Johnson and Dean Vassilios Papadopoulos celebrated the naming of the university’s pharmacy school on Wednesday, a game-changing moment in its 118-year history.

Unveiling the new name on the building’s facade, the USC Alfred E. Mann School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences formally celebrated the generous $50 million gift from the Alfred E. Mann Foundation for Biomedical Engineering to name and further strengthen the school.

Folt was instrumental in restructuring the foundation’s original gift to ensure the USC Mann School’s rise as a leading research and educational institution. The naming gift also underscores prominence of the school — one of the top-ranked pharmacy schools in the nation — in education, research and community care in Los Angeles.

“Our pharmacy school … has innovation built into its own DNA.”

Carol L. Folt, USC president

“Our pharmacy school, in that spirit, has innovation built into its own DNA,” said USC President Carol L. Folt, noting the late Alfred E. Mann’s own extensive list of patented inventions to improve health — among them, the rechargeable pacemaker.

Like its namesake, USC Mann also has a track record of invention, with faculty researchers who have achieved 35 patents. It also has a history of launching innovative degree programs, including the first doctorate degree in regulatory science.

“In the coming century, biomedical engineering will drive some of the most consequential breakthroughs,” Folt said. “The school is now partnering with USC Dornsife to turn plastic waste from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch into medicines and other much-needed products.”

USC Mann School: Large footprint, and growing

The school has a large footprint in the region that will only grow now with help from the Mann gift.

Guests arrive during the Mann School of Pharmacy naming ceremony, Feb. 8 , 2023. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

More than half of all pharmacists in Southern California were once trained at USC, Folt said, gesturing toward the facade of USC Mann at the Health Sciences Campus.

The donation — the largest naming donation for a school of pharmacy in California — starts a new chapter for the school, funding student scholarships and faculty recruitment while helping build a research infrastructure across USC’s University Park and Health Sciences campuses.

The name alone sets it apart from dozens of the more than 140 peer institutions across the country as it honors the late, prolific biodevice developer Alfred E. Mann, who was also a member of the USC Board of Trustees.

Mann’s gift for the school is part of a major initiative launched by the university and the Alfred E. Mann Foundation for Biomedical Engineering that will significantly expand USC and Southern California’s health sciences, biotech and engineering footprint. Since Mann first generously donated the gift in 1998, it has grown to more than $230 million.

Last November, Folt announced that the gift, in addition to providing a naming gift to the pharmacy school, would also enable the naming of the Alfred E. Mann Department of Biomedical Engineering within the USC Viterbi School of Engineering to boost its educational and research endeavors.

Nora Johnson, who knew Mann, said his spirit of ingenuity was legendary. The legacy his foundation now leaves to USC Mann and his namesake Department of Biomedical Engineering is especially fitting.

“Al cared less about stockpiling wealth — and more about serving humanity.”

Suzanne Nora Johnson, USC trustee chair

“Big Al,” as Johnson and others liked to call the inventor, was a remarkable entrepreneur, founding 17 companies over seven decades yet remaining dedicated to solving medical issues. His products included a prosthetic for the blind, Second Sight; a rechargeable and implantable pacemaker, Pacesetter; and drug therapies for diabetes, cancer and other diseases under his company MannKind Corp.

“Al cared less about stockpiling wealth — and more about serving humanity,” Johnson said. “It’s not hyperbole to say: The companies he founded helped the blind to see, the deaf to hear and the physically challenged to walk.”

Legacy lives on through USC Mann School graduates

And now his legacy will live on through thousands of future USC Mann graduates.

In its 118-year history, the school has a history of pushing pharmacy education beyond its traditional scope, positioning its faculty and graduates as first-line medical staff and health care providers. For example, USC Mann led Los Angeles’ rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic, overseeing the nation’s largest distribution site, at Dodger Stadium.

Dean Vassilios Papadopoulos gives remarks during the Mann School of Pharmacy naming ceremony, Feb. 8 , 2023. (Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Even before the pandemic, USC Mann was providing important services for the improvement of community health. It offers drug takeback days each year to properly dispose of leftover medicines and provides consultations to Angelenos to help them manage their medications.

“Very few pharmacy schools have received naming gifts, and still fewer have been bestowed with a significant endowment,” said Vassilios Papadopoulos, dean of USC Mann. “What this means for our community — and how it will redirect what we can achieve — is beyond measure.”

The Mann Foundation gift will fuel a strategic plan for the school that focuses in part on curricular changes that will “ensure the school’s long-standing place at the vanguard of progress in pharmacy and pharmacological sciences,” Papadopoulos said.

“We will continue to transform how students are educated, in all of our degree programs, so they remain prepared to continue pushing forward the frontiers of pharmacy and health care to benefit individuals and communities everywhere,” he added.

Later this year, the school will open a new community pharmacy — its fifth — in South Los Angeles, reaffirming its commitment to alleviating health disparities created by “pharmacy deserts.” This pharmacy will offer chronic disease management as well as health and wellness education.

USC Mann also stands out among peer institutions because its new name was broadened to encompass opportunities for its graduates in the entire spectrum of pharmaceutical discovery and health application, from basic discovery to experimental therapeutics and all the way to clinical trials and implementation and analysis of impact. Students can emerge as innovative entrepreneurs conducting drug research in the pharmaceutical and biomedical fields to develop and test new drug therapies. Some may even launch their own startups, joining a growing and influential biotech sector that now spans the Southern California coastline from L.A. to San Diego.

USC Mann School trains leaders in research, industry and regulation

With more than 20 degree programs, the school also primes its graduates for leadership roles in research, industry and federal regulation. One of Wednesday’s speakers was Renita Moradian, the first student to receive the USC Mann School’s new bachelor’s of science degree in pharmacology and drug development.

“The Mann name will continue to flourish through the discoveries generated in the school’s labs and from the future pharmacy leaders we train.”

Vassilios Papadopoulos, USC Mann dean

“In 2018, when I first received my bachelor’s degree, I remember feeling very lucky. USC had given me countless opportunities that exceeded every expectation I had as a first-generation immigrant and as a first-generation college student,” said Moradian, who is completing her PharmD. “What I didn’t know at the time is the extent to which I would continue to change and grow while pursuing my doctorate degree here.”

In the early days of USC Mann, the majority of students trained to be community pharmacists, and that is still the case at many pharmacy schools. But today — and for many years now — the school has trained pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists, medicinal chemists, pharmacologists, drug developers, clinical trialists, economists specializing in drug policy and costs, and regulatory scientists for all potential jobs, not for a specific one, Papadopoulos said.

“As health care needs change, we will have the agility, coupled with the know-how and determination, to pursue innovations that anticipate and are ahead of the curve in meeting those changes,” said Papadopoulos. “The Mann name will continue to flourish through the discoveries generated in the school’s labs and from the future pharmacy leaders we train.”