Knight Cancer Institute Mission and Milestones

A photo of Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, Oregon at sunset.


At the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, our vision is a world freed from the burden of cancer. Our mission is to end cancer as we know it.  Through innovative, collaborative research and education, we provide prevention, detection, and care — one person at a time.

Our guiding principles:

  • We act boldly.
  • We support each other.
  • We work as a connected team.


1991: OHSU launches the Oregon Cancer Center. Leukemia expert Grover Bagby, M.D., is the founding director.

1993: Dr. Bagby recruits Brian Druker, M.D., to work on imatinib, an experimental drug that targets abnormal blood cells in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).

1999: A trial of imatinib yields stunning results: 30 of 31 patients show dramatic improvement. CML, once a fatal disease, is now a manageable condition. The era of targeted therapy and precision cancer medicine begins.

2001: The Food and Drug Administration approves imatinib, now known as Gleevec, to treat CML. It is the fastest FDA approval ever for a cancer drug.

The birth of targeted therapy

Black-and-white photo of Dr. Brian Druker standing in a research lab

“The way I’d been trained, cancer was seen as something like a light switch that was stuck in an ‘on’ position. You were given a baseball bat, which was chemotherapy, and told to knock the light out with the bat.

“I thought, ‘Why don’t we just try to figure out why the light is stuck on, then we can fix it without breaking everything?’

"So I started my laboratory career studying the regulation of cell growth — what turns the switch on, what helps it shut down. And that’s how Gleevec is different from earlier chemotherapies, which basically poisoned every cell in the body in an attempt to kill the cancer.

"Gleevec turned off the light switch and only killed the cancer cells.”

— Dr. Brian Druker, in a 2009 interview with The New York Times

2007: Dr. Druker becomes director of the OHSU Cancer Institute.

2008: Nike founder Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, make a gift of $100 million. The Knight Cancer Institute is renamed in their honor.

2010: Knight surgeons remove tumors from a patient’s throat using transoral robotic surgery.

2013: Phil and Penny Knight make a $500 million challenge grant to fund Knight Cancer Institute research. More than 10,000 donors from around the globe join the Knight Cancer Challenge, matching the grant to raise $1 billion in less than two years.

2013: The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society partners with OHSU and other leading cancer centers to launch the Beat AML trial. The goal is to find treatments for acute myeloid leukemia. Dr. Druker designs the trial and helps lead the study.

2014: Gert Boyle, then-chairwoman of Columbia Sportswear, makes a gift of $100 million to speed work to find cancer early.

2016: The Knight opens the Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research Center, a pioneering effort to find and treat cancer early.

2017: The Knight is named a Comprehensive Cancer Center, the National Cancer Institute’s top designation.

2018: The Knight launches SMMART, a new way to run clinical trials. Patients get access to combinations of drugs that act like a one-two punch to knock out their cancer. Doctors track tumors in real time to figure out the best combination.

2018: The Knight becomes one of the first cancer centers to offer CAR T-cell therapy to treat lymphoma. The Knight’s Richard Maziarz, M.D., plays a central role in developing the therapy.

2018: The Knight opens the Knight Cancer Research Building. The 320,000-square-foot structure is designed to speed research by bringing scientists from different disciplines together.

2020: Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle and his wife, Mary, give $10 million to OHSU and the University of Oregon to harness “big data” to speed cancer innovations.

2020: The Knight launches the Center for Experimental Therapeutics. The center pioneers an approach known as reverse translation, where scientists create new treatments based on the DNA of individual patients.

2021: Knight doctors are the first in the world to use NK therapy in a patient with advanced lymphoma.

2021: Knight researchers discover a way to target a pivotal driver of drug resistance in ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is one of the top causes of cancer death in women.

2021: The Knight opens a special unit to centralize care for patients in early-phase clinical trials.

2022: Knight researchers show that it's possible to track a patient's tumor as it evolves resistance — and switch treatment to keep it under control.

2022: The Center for Experimental Therapeutics is named to the National Cancer Institute's Chemical Biology Consortium. This group is spearheading national efforts to turn promising discoveries into new cancer therapies. 

2023: A team from OHSU wins recognition from Guiness World Records for detecting the smallest melanoma ever recorded. Despite its tiny size, the cancer was deadly, but the patient made a full recovery, thanks to early detection.

2023: Knight researchers uncover a new generation of PARP-1 inhibitors with unique and powerful anticancer properties.

2024: The Knight becomes one of the first cancer centers to offer tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy (TIL therapy) for people with metastatic melanoma.