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OHSU Knight Cancer Institute Announces Plans for $100 Million Gift From Nike Chairman Phil Knight and his Wife, Penny

Investments focus on four initiatives to further the institute’s mission to make personalized cancer treatment a reality

Following a thorough exploration and assessment, the Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cancer Institute announced plans for how the $100 million gift from Nike Chairman Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, will further its mission to make personalized cancer therapy a reality.

“We are now in an era where we’re unlocking the secrets of cancer,” said Brian Druker, M.D., director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and associate dean for oncology. The very way we think about cancer is changing, he said, and the $100 million gift goes a long way toward positioning the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute to continue to lead that change and enabling us to leverage the future donations we will need. “The work ahead of us is about much more than scientific discovery and the latest medicine. It’s about sparing families from the fear that this dreaded disease could take away someone they love.”

The gift will be used to launch four initiatives, all of which are designed to transform the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s health-care and research operations to deliver personalized cancer therapies. The Knight will expand a “discovery engine” within the university’s research branch to continue to explore the cellular pathways through which cancer grows; enhance the institute’s comprehensive tissue bank for diagnostics and research; establish a clinical molecular lab service; and refine patient care to tailor treatment plans for each individual’s tumor biology.

“We’re very pleased to announce the conclusion of the strategic planning process for the Knight Cancer Institute, designed to crystallize a vision and set of actions following the extraordinary $100 million investment in the Knight’s future received from Phil and Penny Knight,” said OHSU President Joe Robertson, M.D., M.B.A. “These initiatives will enhance the Knight Cancer Institute’s position as a center of excellence at OHSU and will further the university’s goal to be a national leader in health and science innovation for the purpose of improving the health and well-being of the people whose lives we touch.”

The strategic re-aligning of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute comes as cancer research and treatment is entering a new phase that was ushered in by Druker’s discovery that cancer cells could be shut down by disabling the molecules that drive their growth. The drug that resulted from that research, Gleevec® – the world’s first targeted cancer therapy – revolutionized the way cancer is treated. It also inspired a new wave of exploration into targeted therapies that zero in on cancer-causing molecules without damaging healthy ones. Because of Druker’s breakthrough research, the Knight Cancer Institute is uniquely positioned at the forefront of the next generation of cancer research and treatment.

The initiatives are designed to enable the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute to expand upon this expertise in cancer research, diagnosis and personalized cancer treatments in the following ways:

Discovery engine for investing in personalized cancer innovation
The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s personalized approach to cancer treatment relies on research into the pathways that are common to the growth of most tumors. To supplement those efforts, the institute will recruit premier faculty focused on discoveries in several of these key pathways. The researchers who are part of this “discovery engine” will provide the innovation required for the institute’s continual advancement in personalized cancer research and personalized cancer treatments.

Tissue bank for advancing research into targeted therapies, matching patients to clinical trials
The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s tissue bank, which is the largest collection of tumor tissue samples in Oregon, is one of the few nationwide that has been annotated with individual genomic information. This approach to tissue collection will continue to power personalized cancer treatment discoveries. Cancer patients who choose to have their tumor samples included in the bank will also have the option to be part of a personalized cancer medicine registry that will direct them to therapies and future clinical trials that are targeted for their specific type of cancer.

Clinical molecular lab services for personalizing tumor diagnosis
The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute has unique capabilities to produce a detailed genetic map of a patient’s tumor. This information is essential to determining which cancer treatments will be most effective for each individual patient, because the traditional approach of treating all cancers as the same disease type and using the same therapies has not been effective in most cases. The diagnostic lab services are an integral part of the care patients will receive at the Knight Cancer Institute, and will also be offered to other physicians, hospitals and drug companies who don’t have the necessary expertise to perform these studies.

Personalizing cancer care based on advanced diagnostics 
Personalized cancer care is the end result of personalized research, diagnosis and treatment. The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute will re-engineer how OHSU cancer patients receive treatment. With fine-tuning and investment over time, the end result will be a new model in which the patient’s tumor will be genotyped so that the patient can be matched to the most appropriate therapies, including clinical trials, which will be delivered by a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists.

As the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute invests in these segments of its mission going forward, OHSU is also making internal changes to ensure that the Knight has the organizational flexibility and authority to succeed. The position of associate dean for oncology has been created within the OHSU School of Medicine and will be filled by Druker.  In this new role, Druker will have oversight of the institute’s strategic initiatives, all OHSU cancer biology research and will share in leadership of all clinical oncology services within OHSU’s health care system. The current Department of Radiation Medicine and Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology will become part of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. This hybrid — which brings together cancer-related educational, research and clinical activities — distinguishes the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute among academic health centers.

“Phil and Penny Knight’s generous gift is an exceptional starting point for achieving the Knight’s vision, but the overall investment needed to achieve our goals will also depend on our ability to expand clinical and research revenues, as well as philanthropic investment from those committed to our mission,” Druker said.

“Making significant strides in defeating cancer requires ambition and some risk taking,” he added. “Our initiatives are the result of a rigorous analysis of how to best serve cancer patients now and how to position ourselves to fully deliver on the promise of personalized cancer therapy. They will enable us to create a cycle in which the work done in the lab can more rapidly improve patient care, and, in turn, the experience gained by treating patients with targeted therapies will help direct future cancer research.” 

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Brian Druker, M.D., is director of the Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cancer Institute, associate dean for oncology in the OHSU School of Medicine, JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research at OHSU, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
A photograph of Druker is available at:,Brian.jpg.

About the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute
With the latest treatments, technologies, hundreds of research studies and approximately 400 clinical trials, the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center between Sacramento and Seattle— an honor earned only by the nation's top cancer centers. The honor is shared among the more than 650 doctors, nurses, scientists and staff who work together at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute to reduce the impact of cancer.  Visit or

About the OHSU Foundation
The OHSU Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that exists to secure private philanthropic support to advance Oregon Health & Science University’s vital missions, and to invest and manage gifts responsibly to honor donors’ wishes.

About OHSU
The Oregon Health & Science University is the state's only health and research university, and Oregon's only academic health center. OHSU is Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government). OHSU’s size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. OHSU serves patients from every corner of the state, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,400 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to every county in the state.

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