The University of Oxford has received a donation of £3.5 million from billionaire steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, to aid the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Mittal, the CEO of the largest steel company in the world, ArcelorMittal, is making an endowment for the post of professor of vaccinology in the Oxford Jenner Institute. The post will be known as the Lakshmi Mittal and Family Professorship of Vaccinology, in recognition of this support.

The University of Oxford is leading the race for the development of a coronavirus vaccine, with large scale human trials taking place the UK, Brazil, and South Africa. Professor Adrian Hill is heading up this effort, and has previously stated he hoped that a vaccine would be viable for October.

Commenting on the donation, Mittal said: “This year has been a wake-up call to the world to be better prepared for pandemics, which, as we have all experienced, can cause massive social and economic disruption.

“After a fascinating conversation with Professor Hill, my family and I concluded that the work he and his team are doing is not only extraordinary but essential, not just for this current crisis but for other challenges we may face in the future.

“The importance of dedicated and ongoing research in this field cannot be overestimated and we are delighted to be supporting this vaccinology professorship at Oxford.”

Professor Gavin Screaton, Head of Oxford’s Medical Sciences Division, said: “We are enormously grateful to Lakshmi Mittal and his family for their incredibly generous support at this critical moment. By securing the future of this pivotal leadership post, the University can continue to deliver and grow its world-leading vaccine research and focus on pandemic preparedness.

“The results of this work will have a significant impact on people’s lives around the world and will enable humanity to respond with even greater speed to the next global pandemic. The progress of Oxford’s vaccine candidate for COVID-19, which is currently in human trials, underlines the vital contribution that Oxford is currently making to this field.”

The University of Oxford Development Office said: “Boosted by a further £1.75 million in matched funding from the University, the Mittal family’s gift has enabled the permanent endowment of the post. Not only will this allow Professor Hill to continue with his vital research, but will also help to ensure that Oxford remains at the forefront of vaccine development for generations to come.”

This is not the first time that Mittal has donated to medical pursuits. In 2008 the Mittals donated £15 million to the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London in order to partially fund the new Mittal Children’s Medical Centre. In 2014, ArcelorMittal was also a founding member of the Ebola Private Sector Mobilisation Group, which coordinated the private sector response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. This year, he made a donation of ₹100 crores to the PM CARES fund during the COVID-19 outbreak in India.

In 2005, Forbes ranked Mittal as the third-richest person in the world. As of 2016, the Sunday Times Rich List estimated his net worth at around £7.12 billion.

Image credit to D Wells