- The co-founder and current board chairman and chief technology officer of Oracle, Larry Ellison, is donating $200 million for the creation of a new cancer research institute at the University of Southern California (USC).
The Lawrence J. Ellison Institute will include cancer researchers with state-of-the-art equipment -- but also art therapy and a chef. The inclusion of a more holistic focus differentiates it from many of the other new centers.
- The institute will be run by David Agus, who shares Ellison's vision of approaching cancer more holistically.
Ellison is joining a growing list of philanthropists, including Napster founder and former Facebook executive Sean Parker, publisher and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Sydney Kimmel, founder of the Jones Apparel Group, who are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into dedicated cancer research centers.
Parker recently gave $250 million to create a cancer research organization with headquarters at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF). Meanwhile Kimmel and Bloomberg have donated $125 million to fund the Bloomberg-Kimmel Center for Immunotherapy at Johns Hopkins. There are also billions being poured into research by the pharma industry, with Merck, Pfizer, Roche and Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca leading the way.
These eponymous donations are driven by a commitment to philanthropy. Ellison took Warren Buffet's pledge to give away half of his wealth, which in the case of Ellison is about $21 billion. Progress that has been made with checkpoint inhibitors, CAR-T and combo therapies has encouraged potential donors to see a way forward and a potential for a breakthrough.
One of the goals of donors is to free up researchers to focus on science, without worrying about funding and whether or not they can afford a specific piece of lab equipment, or have the resources to attract high-caliber scientists. So while cynics may point out that most of the progress in improving cancer survival rates has been a function of better diagnostics and prevention efforts, there have also been pivotal points of progress that have changed cancer treatment -- and there was always money behind it.
For example, in the mid-1940's Mary Lasker, dubbed the socialite-philanthropist, who was married to Albert Lasker, started to push for more funding for the organization that eventually became the American Cancer Society. With her push for more federal funding, in addition to personal gifts from the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, the American Cancer Society became a force.
It was at this point, in the mid-1940s and for 25 years afterwards that Lasker's philanthropic and other efforts shifted the paradigm for cancer research. During that time, significant changes occurred -- developments we now take for granted, such as the rise of platinum-based therapies for treating solid-organ tumors, according to Dr. Vincent DeVita, who shares the story of the Laskers in The Death of Cancer.