IU Cancer Center receives record $50 million gift

Funds will help attract 'superstars' in medical research

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON Nov. 27, 2006 


Along with a record-breaking $50 million donation announced Nov. 20 to fund new facilities to attract elite researchers, the IU Cancer Center will also receive a new name.

Now known as the IU Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, the title change will reflect the benefactors, Indianapolis-based real estate billionaire Melvin Simon and his wife Bren. Their endowment is the single-largest gift the center has ever received.

"Because of their support, faculty research at the IU Cancer Center will be accelerated and expanded in their scope," said IU President Adam Herbert in a University media release. He added that this gift could result in the development of many more "life-saving" treatments.

Half of the donation will be used to recruit internationally accomplished researchers to the IU School of Medicine, while the other $25 million will be used to expand the center's facility, a joint project with Clarian Health, according to the release.

To attract new researchers, IU will incorporate an endowment plan in which it will only use interest gained from the initial $25 million, said Curt Simic, president of the IU Foundation.

"This will give us $1.25 million per year," he said. "It will give the dean money every year to go after some real superstars."

Simic added that the quality of new researchers was much more important than the quantity. He said the center might hire fewer than 10 new researchers in the next five years but stressed the new doctors would be the best in their fields.

Some researchers already working at the center immediately saw what such a donation could mean.

"Without support like this, we could not get any of the research done," said Dr. Robert Bigsby, a professor in the IU School of Medicine and member of the breast cancer research program at the cancer center. "You don't get federal funding without having already started the research, but you can't start the research until you have funding."

He added that most research institutions like the IU Cancer Center rely heavily on private financial support.

"These dollars will be used to support new projects," Bigsby said. "They will help the young scientists develop new ideas."

Although the Simons have had a relationship with the University for more than a decade, talks for the most recent donation began about a year ago, Simic said.

"An important part of (the Simons') lives is giving back," Simic said. "They really truly are grateful for how successful they have become from their home base in Indiana. They wanted to do a big thing to benefit the people of central Indiana."

But financial "success" might be an understatement.

Melvin Simon holds a net worth of more than $2 billion, according to Forbes List of the 400 Wealthiest Americans. He is the co-founder of the Simon Property Group, which is the largest public retail real estate company in North America, according to the company's Web site.

Along with their wealthy reputation, the couple also has a long tradition of giving back to IU. The Simons have been instrumental in creating the Bess Meshulam Simon Music Library and Recital Center, the Helene G. Simon Hillel Center and more recently Simon Hall, IU's new multidisciplinary life sciences building.

"The Simons have been unusually attentive to what IU has been doing in areas of life science research and building a higher-quality cancer center," said IU Director of Media Relations Larry MacIntyre. "They are very supportive of what we are trying to do here."

Even beyond new facilities and more esteemed researchers, members at the cancer center said they are excited about the unknown benefits the gift might provide.

"You can't predict what research is going to lead to results and what will be translated into actual clinical applications," Bigsby said. "You just have to go for it."


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