The challenger. Shoe mogul Phil Knight and his wife Penny will give Oregon Health & Science University $500 million if it can match the donation.


Challenge Accepted: OHSU Seeks $500 Million to Match Cancer Research Pledge

Let the fundraising begin! At a press briefing today, Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) officials announced their intent to raise $500 million for cancer research over the next 2 years in order to earn an equivalent matching grant. The $500 million challenge was offered last Friday in a surprise move by philanthropists Phil and Penny Knight.  The $1 billion campaign “is a transformational moment” for the university and the war on cancer, says OHSU President Joe Robertson.

The Knights had previously donated $100 million to create a cancer research institute at OHSU, headed by Brian Druker, who led the development of the cancer drug Gleevec. Their latest pledge came after Druker recently lobbied the couple for another $1 billion to take insights from Gleevec, as well as other so-called molecularly targeted therapies, and develop better early detection tools for tumors. Calling current cancer detection methods “relatively crude technologies,” Druker says “we have to do better.”

OHSU officials didn’t offer specifics for how they plan to spend the potential $1 billion, although Druker says he envisions hiring about 20 elite scientists and giving them enough funding to take risks, a strategy he compared to what the Howard Hughes Medical Institute does. “We’re trying to release investigators from our current constraints of grant-writing,” he says.

Phil Knight was a co-founder of athletic shoe giant Nike and is now a prominent funder of academia. In 2006, he gave Stanford University’s business school what was, at that time, the largest donation in its history, $105 million.