OHSU Cancer Institute Receives $5 Million Gift to Establish State-of-the-Art Research Laboratories

02/20/08  Portland, OR

Grateful Gleevec patient's family gives back to help continue ground-breaking cancer research

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University who played a critical role in the development of Gleevec - the revolutionary pill that has given more than 100,000 cancer patients the gift of longer life - are now getting a special gift of their own:  new state-of-the-art laboratories made possible by the grateful family of a Gleevec patient.

Lori and Jen-Hsun Huang of Los Altos Hills, California, have committed $5 million to the OHSU Cancer Institute to establish the James W. Mills Cancer Research Laboratories in OHSU’s new, world-class Biomedical Research Building. Made in loving honor of Lori’s father, James W. Mills, the gift will be formally announced at “Targeting Hope: Celebrating the OHSU Cancer Institute,” a Feb. 22 gala for supporters at Portland’s Governor Hotel. Mr. Mills, who has chronic myelogenous leukemia, has been successfully treated with Gleevec since 2001.

OHSU Cancer Institute Director Brian Druker, M.D., in collaboration with Novartis pharmaceuticals, developed Gleevec, a drug that interferes with an enzyme that triggers the growth of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) cells. By specifically targeting the cancerous cells, the healthy cells are left unharmed. With an astonishing 95 percent five-year survival rate in CML patients, Gleevec, taken orally as a pill, is a nontoxic therapy that does not cause the often-debilitating side effects associated with radiation treatments and chemotherapy.

Gleevec was the first molecularly targeted therapy approved to treat this form of cancer. Moreover, it proved conclusively that targeted drugs - once only a theory - do in fact work. The future promise for additional drugs that work in the same way is bright, and OHSU is committed to remaining a leader in this crucial scientific frontier.

In announcing the gift, Druker described the new laboratories’ potential to accelerate the search for the next generation of targeted therapies.

“It is really difficult to overstate just how much this remarkable gift will advance our work,” said Druker, who is also the JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and a recent inductee to the National Academy of Science. “These laboratories will provide cancer researchers with vital resources and tools to advance cancer research and care. I believe this gift could bring us years closer to the discovery of important new treatments. We are truly grateful.”

The James W. Mills Cancer Research Laboratories will be located on the fifth floor of the Biomedical Research Building. The laboratories will become a core component of the institute’s planned Center for Cancer Cell Signaling, where researchers will look for the secrets of cancer in the way cells communicate with one another. This highly collaborative work requires close proximity to OHSU’s brightest minds and best resources. Thus, like other laboratories in the building, the James W. Mills Cancer Research Laboratories will be custom-designed to facilitate multidisciplinary collaboration between individual scientists and among the building’s diverse research groups.  

The Huangs’ Oregon ties date back to the early 1980s, when they met as engineering students at Oregon State University. Jen-Hsun Huang is today the CEO, co-founder and president of NVIDIA, a leading Silicon Valley company and the world leader in visual computing technologies. Their interest in OHSU’s cancer research program and the Gleevec story intensified after Lori’s father began Gleevec therapy in 2001. Although a resident of Arizona, Mr. Mills is a significant supporter of the OHSU Cancer Institute in his own right, and will be on hand at the gala to celebrate the gift announcement. A special celebration to honor the family will take place in the fall when the laboratories are completed.

“Gleevec saved my dad’s life. We are grateful for the gift that Dr. Druker has given our family. We are convinced that Dr. Druker and his team hold the key to a better life for cancer patients everywhere,” said Lori Huang. “With our engineering backgrounds, we appreciate the power of research to make a real difference in people’s lives. We also know that the best science demands the best resources. We wanted to do everything we could to help Dr. Druker take targeted therapies to the next level. I want there to be a Gleevec for every type of cancer so that more people can have the same kind of wonderful experience my dad has had,” she said.

“The OHSU Cancer Institute is a unique resource in our state - its research discoveries and innovations reach beyond our campus to impact patients, medical providers and scientists throughout Oregon and beyond,” says Rob Shick, also a CML patient who has been treated successfully with Gleevec. He is co-chair with Dick Rubinstein of the drive to fund the Center for Cancer Cell Signaling. “These discoveries have set new standards of care worldwide. Completion of this lab space will mark a new era in Oregon’s future and in the lives of cancer patients everywhere.”

The Biomedical Research Building was made possible by the half-billion-dollar public-private partnership known as the Oregon Opportunity, which concluded in 2006. Although public Oregon Opportunity funds built the 274,000-square-foot structure, the OHSU Foundation is continuing to raise private support to build out and equip individual floors. The OHSU Cancer Institute has raised nearly $7.6 million of the $10 million required to complete the cell-signaling center. To learn more about this initiative, contact Rachel Hunsinger, director of development, at 503 494-8342, hunsinge@ohsu.edu.

About the OHSU Foundation

The OHSU Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that exists to secure private philanthropic support for Oregon Health & Science University. The foundation raises funds from individuals, companies, foundations and organizations, and invests and manages gifts in accordance with donors’ wishes.