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6 Jan 2014

$90 Million to U. of C. Meant to 'Alter the Course of Cancer'

The Chicago Tribune reports that cancer researchers at the University of Chicago will get a substantial boost Monday, when an international nonprofit plans to announce that the university and five other leading institutions will each receive $90 million to advance new treatments aimed at eradicating cancer.


The $540 million gift from Ludwig Cancer Research, a fund created by the late billionaire Daniel Ludwig, comes at a time when government and private funding for medical research is on the decline.


"We're here to alter the course of cancer," said Ed McDermott, a Ludwig trustee and president and CEO of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, a sister organisation that has more than 600 cancer researchers at dedicated labs around the world. "This funding will be available for those scientists for the indefinite future without having to worry about whether their research is going to be funded next year."


The gift adds to a $120 million endowment in 2006 that created Ludwig Centers at the U. of C., Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Stanford University.


The Chicago research center, headed by radiation oncologist Dr Ralph Weichselbaum and Geoffrey Greene, a molecular biologist, has now received a total of $110 million from Ludwig, which it says should fund in perpetuity continuing study of the disease.


The Ludwig endowment comes at a crucial time for research institutions like the U. of C., which are finding it increasingly difficult to secure grants and other funding to support biomedical research.


"At this time in the history of federal research dollars, the Ludwig funding has created a remarkable opportunity for me and others here to pursue topics, technologies and other initiatives that we just can't get through federal funding," Greene said in an interview. "It's really such a tremendous advantage."


Greene and Weichselbaum said the new funding will help the Chicago research center accelerate and advance its continuing body of research on metastasis, the process by which cancer cells migrate from a primary tumor to distant sites in the body.


The U. of C. plans to use the money to hire researchers, technicians and scientists and purchase equipment. The grant also provides a unique flexibility to pursue unconventional research that other entities often do not fund.


"It's pivotal funding at a time when I think it would have been very hard (to continue this research) otherwise," Weichselbaum said. "The entirety of science revolves around fresh ideas and new infusions of talent, and I think universities are finding this increasingly difficult."


The Ludwig Center is inside the U. of C.'s Gwen and Jules Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery, which opened in 2009.


The latest funding should enable each center to build a self-sustaining endowment that will yield about $4 million to $5 million in annual research funds in the near term, with amounts growing in later years as their endowments grow, the fund said.


Each university will be responsible for managing its own endowment investments.


Although each center has its own specific focus in the disease category, they commonly collaborate to share theories and discoveries about the nature of cancer and better ways to treat it.


"The whole purpose of this funding is meant to be transformative," McDermott said. "It is meant to relieve investigators from being wholly reliant on short-term grant funding to enable more innovative, higher-risk research."


In a typical grant process, researchers have shorter time frames — typically about three years — to conduct studies and show results in order to get re-funded, McDermott said. The practice "tends to encourage incrementalism."


Instead, he said, the Ludwig money aims for major breakthroughs.

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