Regeneron Pharmaceuticals to Sponsor Science Talent Search

SAN FRANCISCO — A long-running scholastic science and math competition has a new champion, more money and a splashy kickoff with a famous scientist.

On Thursday, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company based in Tarrytown, N.Y., will announce that it is taking over sponsorship of the Science Talent Search with a 10-year, $100 million commitment to the high school competition.

That is a sharp increase in funding. When Intel, the world’s largest maker of semiconductors, gave up its 18-year sponsorship of the prize in a surprise move last year, it was paying $6 million a year.

The new sponsors will be announced in New York at the American Museum of Natural History by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the celebrity astrophysicist who is director of the museum’s Hayden Planetarium.

Sponsorship of the prize increasingly reflects the state of American business as it relates to education in so-called STEM subjects, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The contest, started during World War II, counts among its finalists several Nobel Prize winners, as well as university professors, popular science authors and business executives.

Westinghouse Electric — a pioneer in areas including electrification, nuclear power, commercial radio and home appliances — initially sponsored the competition. Westinghouse came to ruin over bad loans from its credit division, and Intel, riding high on the personal computer and Internet booms, took over sponsorship in 1998.

Like many older companies in computer tech, Intel is now struggling with the transition from traditional software and PCs to a future of cloud computing and mobile devices. In April, Intel announced that it was laying off 12,000 people, and would concentrate more on making chips for big cloud-computing companies like Amazon and Google.

Even with its troubles, the decision by Intel’s chief executive, Brian M. Krzanich, to drop a $6 million prize when Intel still had net income of $2 billion in the last quarter dismayed many inside the company. Craig R. Barrett, a former Intel chief executive, sits on the board of trustees for the Society for Science & the Public, which administers the prize.

“I don’t overinterpret facts, but I’m happy to observe them,” Dr. Tyson said. “It’s a sign of the times and a statement about the future that a computer company doesn’t see this as important, and a biotech company, in an industry on the eve of big breakthroughs, does.”

He added, “It’s still a surprise why a company would do this to its branding.”

Stock in Regeneron, which makes drugs that treat ailments like cardiovascular disease and degeneration of the eye, has risen sixfold in the last five years. Intel has gained 35 percent, about half as much as the tech-heavy Nasdaq.

In addition to increasing the top prize money to $250,000 from $150,000 and doubling awards to the top 300 contestants and their schools to $2,000 each, Regeneron will spend $30 million in outreach to potential contestants in underserved areas, paying for things like mentoring and help with writing applications and participating in contests.

“This should be the best reality show in the world — we need these kinds of kids to save the planet,” said George D. Yancopoulos, Regeneron’s founding scientist and president of its laboratory division. “The world has challenges like cancer, the Zika virus and global warming. We need to change who our heroes are.”


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