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OHSU Cancer Institute Launches $1B Campaign with $500M Pledge

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health and Science University said today that it has received a challenge pledge of $500 million to kick off a fundraising campaign to raise $1 billion to fund the cancer research center.

The funding from Nike Co-founder and Chairman Phil Knight and his wife Penny Knight was pledged to encourage others to help OHSU hit the $1 billion goal over the next two years.

The money OHSU raises in this campaign will fund a 10-year research strategy at the Knight Cancer Institute that will focus on using molecular and genetic tools to improve the early detection of cancer, hiring new staff members, and leveraging collaborations with industry partners.

In a statement today, Knight Cancer Institute Director Brian Druker said OHSU's strategic approach going forward puts an emphasis on early cancer detection and early treatment, because "if we find cancer early, we can usually control it. If we find it late, we usually cannot."

"We're talking about developing infrastructure of imaging technologies that allow us to understand how our molecularly targeted therapeutics are working, and [establishing] genome sequencing and computational biology efforts that allow us to decode this information as quickly as possible and to get this quickly into the clinic," Druker said on a conference call today. "By establishing that infrastructure, we will challenge our investigators to work on how this technology is going to apply to early detection."

"If you take the logical evolution of what we've done with targeted cancer therapies, everyone understands that we have to begin to apply this to early detection," he added. "What it is going to look like in 10 years I don't think anyone can predict, but I think it's absolutely clear that that is where we need to take the field."

The Knights have already provided a major investment of $100 million to the cancer institute in 2008, which was used to fund a national faculty recruiting effort, and the class of investigators OHSU hired using those funds have already expanded upon the institute's programs focused on the molecular basis of cancer.

"Our highest challenge as leaders in molecular-level cancer knowledge is to do for early detection what Gleevec did for targeted treatments," Druker said.

The institute also noted that OHSU is collaborating with industry partners such as Cepheid, Intel, and others, to develop capabilities in high-performance genome sequencing, biocomputing, diagnostic testing, and electron microscopy.

The Knight Cancer Institute said the $1 billion in funding it plans to raise will enable its researchers to "make great strides instead of having to focus on incremental science that is pervasive in our current grant funding environment."

"With the current funding environment, we fund incremental science in small chunks," Druker said on the call.

"What we are talking about is more like a Howard Hughes Medical Institute-level of funding, where we bring in approximately 20 top researchers," he said. "They will have to get some grant funding, but we allow them a certain portion of funding — somewhere between $1 million to $2 million — a reasonable amount with some security so that they can actually begin to think about taking some risks, doing something innovative, failing on occasion but trying to make a big impact. In the current funding climate, it is extremely difficult to think about anything but the very next step."

OHSU Foundation President L. Keith Todd said the fundraising effort will be an international campaign, and the institute is seeking partnerships with other individuals, as well as private and public contributions.

"A billion dollars is a lot of money, and two years is not a lot of time," Todd said on the call. "While we are not naïve about the magnitude of this challenge, we are aligning ourselves and refining our strategies in response to this unexpected, but welcome challenge."