Clinical research has been an important component at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) since 1928, when Columbia University and Presbyterian Hospital joined forces to build a preeminent medical center in northern Manhattan. Early pioneering studies of diabetes and Addison's disease by Dr. Robert F. Loeb, of gout by Dr. Alexander Gutman, and of liver disease by Dr. Franklin Hanger helped to establish the national reputation of the center.

During the postwar decades of the 1950s and 1960s, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) devoted increasing resources to funding basic scientific and clinical research. These research endeavors required clinical infrastructures to support patient-orientated research. To respond to these needs, the NIH’s National Center for Research Resources created the General Clinical Research Centers (GCRC) program.

A GCRC was established at Columbia-Presbyterian in 1971 and has been in continuous operation, making it one of the oldest of the more than 70 GCRCs in the United States. In 1987, Herbert and Florence Irving pledged $11 million to CUMC to build a new clinical research center that would consolidate previously scattered units and to provide a permanent endowment to support clinical research. Mr. Irving is one of the founders of SYSCO, a leading national food distribution group, and he and Mrs. Irving, having been treated at CUMC on a number of occasions, expressed their commitment "to give honor and recognition to our own personal physicians by establishing incentives for young physician-investigators to embark on a career of clinical research."

A major mission of the Irving Endowment -- to encourage young physician-investigators -- was achieved through funding of the Herbert and Florence Irving Assistant Professorships, more commonly known as the Irving Scholars. Since the establishment of the endowment, 112 outstanding young clinicians, whose ranks include the most promising and prominent physicians at CUMC, have received these prestigious awards.

In October 2006, the Irving Center for Clinical Research joined a national consortium created by National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) branch of the NIH to energize the discipline of clinical and translational research, ultimately enabling researchers to provide new treatments more efficiently and quickly to patients. Funding from the new consortium U54 grant, the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), with Henry N. Ginsberg, MD, Herbert and Florence Irving Professor of Medicine, as Principal Investigator and Director, and increased support from the Herbert Irving Foundation, allowed Columbia to create the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research. Melissa D. Begg, ScD, Professor of Biostatistics, and Harold A. Pincus, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, are Co-Directors of the Irving Institute. Karina Davidson, PhD, Herbert Irving Associate Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry, Nancy S. Green, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, and Karen Marder, MD, MPH, Sally Kerlin Professor of Neurology, are Associate Directors of the Irving Institute.

As of December 2011, the national CTSA consortium is now overseen by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), the newest of 27 Institutes and Centers at NIH, established to transform the translational science process so that new treatments and cures for disease can be delivered to patients faster. In May 2013, Columbia University named Herbert and Florence Irving honorary Doctors of Laws in recognition of their remarkable leadership in philanthropy and service.

Florence Irving
Herbert Irving