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UBC alumnus makes $4 million gift to fund crucial COVID-19 medical research and virtual dental care for vulnerable communities

Dr. Edwin Leong steps up with an impactful gift to fund medical research and innovative technology for seniors isolated from dental care.

Philanthropist, businessman and UBC alumnus Dr. Edwin S.H. Leong, LLD, has made a $4 million gift supporting major COVID-19 projects at UBC, with $3 million going to the Faculty of Medicine to advance understanding on protection, prevention and treatment of COVID-19 and $1 million to the Faculty of Dentistry to develop and implement a technology platform for geriatric dentistry.

Dr. Edwin Leong

Dr. Edwin Leong

With this generous gift from Dr. Leong, Faculty of Medicine researchers will accelerate research to advance the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

Dr. Sriram Subramaniam, Dr. Artem Cherkasov and Dr. Natalie Strynadka, all specialists in precision drug design, are using cutting-edge techniques to develop an anti-viral drug to treat COVID-19. Using X-ray crystallography, cryo-electron microscopy and computational simulations, their team is identifying critical components of the virus that new drugs or drug combinations can target.

Dr. Shane Duggan

Dr. Shane Duggan

In other vital research, Dr. Dermot Kelleher and Dr. Shane Duggan are adapting their work on esophageal disease toward a possible preventative treatment for COVID-19. Using advanced molecular technology, they are developing a therapy that targets the lungs of those fighting off the disease and may be effective in protecting frontline health workers by temporarily reducing their risk. For Dr. Kelleher, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Vice-President, Health at UBC, Dr. Leong’s gift represents crucial support at the right time.

Dr. Dermot Kelleher

Dr. Dermot Kelleher

“The global effort to intervene in the spread and severity of COVID-19 has produced several effective vaccines, but there is still more that needs to be done to safeguard the health and well-being of those who are most vulnerable to disease transmission. Dr. Leong’s visionary gift has unlocked the potential for further innovation in our capacity to respond quickly and effectively to the priority health needs of our communities.”

During the global pandemic, vulnerable communities — especially seniors — have suffered not just social isolation but challenges in accessing health resources such as dental care. Dr. Chris Wyatt, Director of UBC’s Geriatric Dentistry Program, knows this funding will significantly change dentistry for seniors in assisted living by supporting the provision of virtual dental care.

“Dr. Leong’s donation to UBC will create a paradigm shift using tele-dentistry to improve access to dental care for elderly long-term care residents. Under the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults have had their traditional access to a dentist compromised,” says Dr. Wyatt. “The UBC Geriatric Dentistry Program plans on implementing a Tele-Dentistry program to explore early interventions and prevent the transfer of patients to hospital emergency, potentially saving lives and health care expenditures.”

This $4 million gift supplements the already established Edwin S.H. Leong Healthy Aging Program — something UBC President Santa Ono finds characteristic of Dr. Leong’s philanthropy.

“This support from Dr. Leong exemplifies his deep concern and empathy for anyone isolated during the pandemic from the basics of medical and dental care — especially seniors,” says Santa Ono. “I am very pleased, but not surprised, that Edwin would be at the forefront of such far-sighted philanthropy for our community.”

Earning his bachelor of science degree from UBC in 1973, Dr. Leong later founded the Hong Kong-based Tai Hung Fai Group property development firm in 1977. In 2013, he established the Tai Hung Fai Charitable Foundation, which serves disadvantaged elderly people and underprivileged children, and supports medical research, among other initiatives. Dr. Leong says he feels privileged to give back to the UBC community.

“I have fond memories of my time at UBC, especially commuting to class on the bus up to University Boulevard from Broadway. I remember often giving up my seat for an elderly commuter when they’d get on at a later stop,” says Dr. Leong. “It’s that memory that informs our foundation’s philanthropy during the pandemic — to make sure no one is left behind on our life journey together, especially with medical or dental care.”