Cordells Establish Institute to Address 21st-Century Health-Care Challenges

Yvonne and Joseph Cordell, center, with their daughters, Elizabeth, left, and Caroline, during the dedication ceremony for the Joseph and Yvonne Cordell Institute for Policy in Medicine & Law on September 12.

The rise of precision medicine, which provides tailored treatments based on patients’ genetic characteristics and environmental and lifestyle factors, has ushered in a healthcare revolution with tremendous potential to improve lives. It also has introduced unprecedented challenges regarding privacy, information security, and intellectual property. If a physician develops a genetic profile to help treat a patient, for example, who should have access to that information? And who owns it—the patient or the physician?

Recognizing the urgent need for policies to address these and other difficult questions, alumni Joseph, LLM ’08, and Yvonne Cordell, JD ’88, have made a $5 million commitment to establish the Joseph and Yvonne Cordell Institute for Policy in Medicine & Law. Launched on September 12, the institute facilitates collaboration between Washington University’s School of Medicine and School of Law with the aim of guiding the ethically responsible development of data-driven health care. It is led by Neil Richards, the Koch Distinguished Professor in Law, and John Heusel, MD/PhD ’95, professor of pathology and genetics.

“There are so many issues arising from precision medicine, genomics, and DNA mining, and no one knows what all the legal repercussions will be,” Mrs. Cordell says. “It’s important for the disciplines of medicine and law to come together so they can inform and learn from each other. We hope the institute will become a national and international leader in this area.”

The Cordell Institute is the brainchild of Nancy Staudt, dean of the School of Law and the Howard and Caroline Cayne Distinguished Professor of Law, and Timothy Eberlein, MD, the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor and director of the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center. Dr. Eberlein also is the William K. Bixby Professor and chair of the Department of Surgery at the School of Medicine.

“Dr. Eberlein and I were confident the time was right for an initiative to address the legal implications of advances in genomic medicine and other breakthroughs,” Dean Staudt says. “Given its unique strengths, we also were confident Washington University was the right place for this initiative and that we had the right leadership. What we needed were visionary catalysts to transform ambitious ideas into reality. We found them in Joe and Yvonne Cordell.”

The Cordells are accomplished entrepreneurs in the legal field. In 1990, they founded Cordell & Cordell in St. Louis. What began as a two-person general law practice has become the largest domestic litigation firm in the country, with more than 300 attorneys and 80 offices in the United States as well as one in Great Britain. Mr. Cordell also is the founder of Cordell Planning Partners, which focuses on elder law and serves clients across Missouri, Illinois, and Kansas.

The creation of the Cordell Institute reflects the couple’s longstanding dedication to the School of Law. Their contributions include providing support for annual and endowed scholarships and serving as volunteer leaders. Mrs. Cordell was a member of the law school’s Scholarship Initiative Committee, and Mr. Cordell has served on the Washington University Law National Council since 2013. Valued advisers to Dean Staudt, they received Distinguished Alumni Awards from the school in 2017.

When the Cordells first heard about plans for the institute, they immediately understood its potential and were eager to provide seed funding. “We felt it was the best investment we could make,” Mr. Cordell says. “All of us who are blessed with the opportunity to give want to have a lasting positive impact, and I believe the issues the Cordell Institute addresses will shape the 21st century in dramatic ways.”

In addition to their $5 million commitment, which will establish an endowment for the Cordell Institute, the couple is providing significant annual funding to support the initiative’s initial efforts, which have included two academic symposia held in conjunction with the institute’s dedication. “We are thrilled that this enterprise has launched,” Mr. Cordell says. “We hope others will step forward with support to ensure its success.”