UCSD Alumni


Triton Monthly: Biological Sciences


Supporting the Birth of Ideas

John Wehrli, a partner in the San Diego office of law firm Latham & Watkins, understands the importance of the University of California to the success of the state and its economy.  That’s why when the UC Berkeley alumnus moved his law practice from the Bay Area to San Diego several years ago, Wehrli sought out the closest UC campus—UC San Diego—to get involved.

With nearly 30 years in and with life science companies focused on biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, Wehrli’s passion lies in science. Although he trained and worked as a research chemist, for the past 20 years his love has been biology, which led him to the UC San Diego Division of Biological Sciences.
“Becoming more involved with UC San Diego has been a mutually beneficial experience,” said Wehrli. “My firm and I both believe in the biotech industry in San Diego, and UC San Diego is a key source of innovation in this area.”

Wehrli first spoke on campus as part of Biological Sciences’ Professional Pathways program, which brings industry executives together with graduate students to explore various career options—from working as a scientist in the lab to becoming a life sciences attorney, like Wehrli. He was then appointed to the Dean’s Leadership Council, comprised of local leaders engaged in advancing and supporting the Division of Biological Sciences.  

“There is a symbiotic relationship between UC San Diego and its affiliated institutes and the biotech community,” said Wehrli.  “The campus generates technology and science discoveries that benefit the biotech community. By supporting UC San Diego, we are helping our client base grow and prosper.”

In addition to donating his time to the campus, Wehrli recently funded and created a fellowship for an outstanding graduate student in the Division of Biological Sciences, which was also funded by his firm, Latham & Watkins.  

“We felt that supporting a Ph.D. student was a tangible way to make an impact,” said Wehrli. “Fellowships also help give the university the ability to attract outstanding graduate students.”

Naina Kurup, who is studying synapses in the tiny nematode, C.elegans, received the fellowship funding this year.  Kurup is working to better understand the formation and maintenance of synapses, or the rewiring of the neuronal circuits during critical time windows. Her work could potentially uncover important clues for functional recovery after stroke, which results in the loss of nearly 14 billion synapses a minute, and other neurodegenerative diseases.

“I am so thankful to Latham & Watkins and Mr. Wehrli for their support,” said Kurup. “It was definitely a welcome affirmation that my research matters. Some might not understand the value of basic science research—that while it might not cure cancer immediately, in the long run, it all adds up.”  

Wehrli could not agree more. “UC San Diego is the birthplace of ideas in biotechnology. It is to the entire biotech industry’s advantage to incentivize early stage science—and the way you do that is to support the university.”