Generous Gift Spurs Cancer Research

With a new $100-million private donation, five institutions in New York and Boston will combine their genetic, technological, and clinical firepower to bring the assault on cancer to a new stage, scientists announced yesterday.

The Starr Foundation, a large New York-based philanthropy interested in health and education, is donating $20 million-a-year over 5 years to a consortium comprising The Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, The Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medical College, all in New York. The five institutions represent immense and varied cancer-fighting resources, with large populations of patients and tissue banks at Cornell and Sloan-Kettering, strong basic research at Rockefeller, and advanced genomic technologies at Broad and Cold Spring Harbor.

Heads of the institutions say the money is particularly welcome now that funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has declined for the past 3 years. And the time is ripe for rapid progress, says Eric Kandel, director of the Broad Institute. "With the completion of the Human Genome Project and development of a wide range of tools based on it, you can now talk about making systematic functional attacks on cancer," he says. Bruce Stillman, director of Cold Spring Harbor, says scientists have not only an explosion of genetic information but new, genetically-tailored mouse models for cancer that were unheard of even a decade ago. "We see this as just the beginning of what may become a sea change in how we do cancer research," he says.

The money still won't make up for NIH funding that is not keeping up with inflation, says Sloan-Kettering director Harold Varmus. "But it will allow people to be innovative in an era of diminishing resources… We're all quite thrilled by this."

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