Philanthropy at the Cellular Level
Pursuing Cures for Global and Local Ails
By Chris Miller, Akron Community Foundation
Twenty-five years ago, while working for the Peace Corps, Victoria Tifft lay fever-stricken in a Togo, West Africa, hospital bed. The fever was familiar: It was the third time the infectious disease biologist had contracted malaria, a treatable but often deadly disease transmitted by the bite of a mosquito.
Such an experience would prompt most people to avoid exposure to the disease at all costs. Not Victoria, who was more concerned with the plight of the West African people than anything else.
“Unfortunately, some of those conditions still exist today, which is horrifying,” she said. This reality has caused her to run toward, not away from, the front lines of disease prevention.
After returning to the states, Victoria and her husband, Quinten, partnered to create the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research Clinical Trial Center, which develops vaccines for infectious diseases like malaria, and later launched the Hinckley, Ohio-based Clinical Research Management (ClinicalRM), which specializes in research and trials.
The tough work of creating a startup business ultimately led to global success, government contracts and a direct line to philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates.
“We had developed a protocol, or clinical trial, to collect plasma from Ebola survivors and use that plasma to (treat) Ebola patients,” Victoria said. The disease was moving fast, so she met with Bill Gates personally in November 2014 and was approved for what she called “the quickest grant in Gates Foundation history.”
“The money was wired overnight, which just doesn’t happen at the Gates Foundation,” Victoria said. “But it was a global crisis. We’ve been working with them ever since on the Ebola crisis.”
In the infectious disease world, the only thing that remains constant is change. In 2016, a big change came for the Tifft family when global drug development solutions provider ICON purchased ClinicalRM. This enabled the Tiffts to leverage several decades of success into a permanent charitable vehicle to fight diseases worldwide and support a variety of other causes that are important to them.
With the help of financial advisor Bill Manby Jr., they established the Tifft Family Fund, a donor-advised fund at Akron Community Foundation.
“(Victoria) has always been philanthropic, so when she sold the business, it was a foregone conclusion that philanthropy would be part of the process,” Manby said. “We thought Akron Community Foundation would be the perfect home.”
Ultimately, the Tiffts hope to use their donor-advised fund to infuse their passion for giving into their three children, who have already shown interest in supporting music, health and children’s causes both locally and around the globe.
“I think just being able to see (the needs) in your community is really compelling,” said Victoria. “This (fund) is going to be the culmination of being able to give them something that they can move and drive on their own.”
“I think just being able to see (the needs) in your community is really compelling.”
Victoria Tifft created a donor-advised fund to support her and her family’s favorite causes.