Our Founders

In 1997, Herb and Marion Sandler established the Program for Breakthrough Biomedical Research to empower UCSF scientists to pursue basic science projects that are creative, risky, and transformative. They recognized the lack of funding available for daring, cutting-edge ideas with the potential for enormous transformative impact, and relished providing support to young scientists bucking conventional wisdom and challenging the status quo.

A Personal, Professional, and Philanthropic Powerhouse

Married in 1961, Herb and Marion Sandler founded Golden West Financial Corporation, a risk-averse residential mortgage portfolio lender, in 1963. They served as husband and wife CEOs for 43 years, during which time they were inducted into the Bay Area Business Hall of Fame and named CEO of the Year by Morningstar. They sold their company in 2006 to focus on philanthropy full-time. 

In 1998, when UCSF’s basic biomedical sciences ran short of funding for cutting-edge research, the Sandlers stepped in and built up basic research that focused on asthma, a neglected disease, through the establishment of the Sandler Asthma Basic Research Center and the American Asthma Foundation. They also founded the Sandler Center for Basic Research in Parasitic Diseases, one of the first drug discovery and development operations in an academic setting. Understanding the power in bringing together bench researchers, clinicians, and patients to accelerate clinical innovation, they established the Sandler Neurosciences Center on UCSF's Mission Bay campus in 2012. Herb and Marion also generously supported the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and the UCSF Center for Next-Gen Precision Diagnostics.

Herb Sandler (1931 - 2019)

Herb Sandler grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, graduated from City College of New York, and earned a law degree from Columbia University. After one of his clients made investments in several small West Coast savings and loan associations, Sandler was put on retainer to advise those companies. At this point, Marion and Herb Sandler’s business interests converged, and they decided to become entrepreneurs in the savings and loan business. They started by acquiring Golden West Savings, which was headquartered in Oakland, California, with assets of $34 million and two offices.


Marion Sandler (1930 - 2012)

Marion Sandler grew up in Maine, graduated from Wellesley College, earned her MBA degree at New York University, and pursued a career on Wall Street, where she specialized in financial companies, including savings and loan associations. Because it was clear that a woman could not become a partner at a financial firm at that time, Sandler decided to advance her career by managing her own business. She became one of only nine women who served as chief executive officers of a Fortune 500 company.