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$50 million gift to cancer research center from Kenneth Griffin
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$50 million gift to cancer research center from Kenneth Griffin

A landmark donation from a billionaire philanthropist to the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center in South Florida promises to quicken the pace in the race to defeat the disease.

Kenneth C. Griffin’s $50 million naming gift to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, to fund the Transformational Cancer Research Building will allow the new 12-story, 244,000-square-foot facility on the Medical Campus to double its research footprint, accelerate efforts to develop new therapies, enhance care for patients, and expand access to clinical trials.

In recognition of the gift, which is part of the University’s $2.5 billion Ever Brighter fundraising campaign, the facility will be named in Griffin’s honor as the Kenneth C. Griffin Cancer Research Building.

It is the second $50 million gift for the Transformational Cancer Research Building, the first made anonymously in 2020.

“Transformative” and “catalytic” are how Dr. Stephen D. Nimer, director of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in cancer research and executive dean for research at the Miller School, describes the gift.

“This gift is trajectory changing,” Nimer said. “Ken Griffin has an incredible history of high-impact and effective giving. This naming will show the world that we are a luminary institution, worthy of incredible investment. It will help in our mission immensely and will also help us raise even more funds for important, lifesaving cancer research. Sylvester’s outstanding researchers and clinicians are devoted to finding cures for cancer, and we have already made important strides. Powered by Ken’s generosity and belief in us, our future is bright.”

Griffin is the founder and CEO of the multinational Miami-based hedge fund firm Citadel and founder of Griffin Catalyst. One of the country’s leading philanthropists, Griffin has long been committed to pushing the frontiers of science and medicine to drive progress and improve lives. His $50 million gift for the new cutting-edge facility comes as Sylvester renews its NCI designation. It achieved the coveted status in 2019, becoming one of 72 cancer centers nationwide to hold the distinction.

“Sylvester’s team of physicians, scientists, and health care professionals plays a leading role in our community’s efforts to defeat cancer,” said Griffin. “I am honored to support the transformational work of these incredible individuals in discovering, developing, and delivering lifesaving treatments to those affected by this disease in South Florida and beyond.”

University of Miami President Julio Frenk, a medical doctor and former federal secretary of health of Mexico, said he is moved by Griffin’s extraordinary commitment to a healthy society.

“Ken Griffin’s support of health systems and medical research has far-reaching impact across every segment of society,” said Frenk. “His generous gift to the University of Miami and Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center will enable cancer researchers to develop innovative ways of preventing and treating a disease that touches individuals and families around the world.”

Longtime University benefactor and trustee Stuart A. Miller emphasized the significance of Griffin’s commitment to a thriving South Florida.

“Great communities are defined by the commitment and enthusiastic support of those who give to ensure excellence and success,” said Miller, University of Miami Health System board chair. “The Ken Griffin name has become synonymous with philanthropic leadership that improves communities. Miami is privileged and fortunate to now call Ken Griffin one of our own.”

The building, Nimer noted, represents more than simply a doubling of research space. It will allow Sylvester to create powerful teams. The facility will also be a powerful magnet, attracting rising cancer researchers who will work closely with other investigators to achieve breakthroughs in eradicating the disease.

“Cancer research is a team sport, and as a cancer center, we have done our best to co-localize, in existing space, our groups of scientists by discipline, disease, or mechanism,” Nimer said. “Now, with the new research building, our teams of the best and brightest bench scientists will not only be working fully alongside one another, but they will be co-localized with our mathematical modelers to more quickly catalyze discoveries.”

Those researchers, he pointed out, will be further inspired by the fact that two floors of the new facility will be dedicated to clinical care.

“Never before on campus have bench scientists worked in the same building as patient care. Now, patients will receive lifesaving treatment where discoveries are being made. The facility will also enable even more patients in the region to participate in clinical research, receive more effective and less toxic treatments, and help us realize the promise of precision medicine,” Nimer said. “This building will support our bench to bedside to community approach and be a source of inspiration and hope.”

 A focus on total-body wellness during cancer treatment to improve the quality of life for patients. It will set a standard for survivorship programs that prioritize recurrence prevention for the benefit of patients and their families.

 State-of-the-art equipment and laboratories and the latest network and machine-learning technologies to accelerate the translation of groundbreaking scientific discoveries into lifesaving and practice-changing treatments and therapies.

 New therapies and ongoing clinical trials. Sylvester has the only South Florida phase 1 clinical trials program, the first step in evaluating how patients respond to novel investigational treatments. Since 2012 Sylvester has tripled the number of interventional treatments it offers, providing therapies that can’t be found at any other cancer center in the world.

“This gift elevates the outstanding research that will have the highest impact, giving us the ability to develop targeted treatments for our patients with the most complex cases,” said Dr. Dipen J. Parekh, chief operating officer of UHealth, the University of Miami Health System and founding director of the Desai Sethi Urology Institute. “UHealth is expanding across the region to fulfill our mission as an academic health system and ultimately, Mr. Griffin’s vision and generosity lifts our entire health enterprise and community.”

Jayne S. Malfitano, chair of the Board of Governors of Sylvester and president and director of the Harcourt M. and Virginia W. Sylvester Foundation, echoed that sentiment. “Sylvester is now entering a new era of extraordinary impact advanced by our talented scientific community and the incredible generosity of pioneering philanthropists like Ken Griffin,” she said. “This unparalleled commitment to science and medicine will continue the Sylvester family legacy and help advance our mission to find cancer cures and save lives.”

Griffin’s landmark gift for the cancer research building also has the potential to help propel the University’s Miller School of Medicine into the upper echelons of elite research-focused medical schools, according to Dr. Henri Ford, dean and chief academic officer of the school.

“Research is the foundation for innovation. It’s the basis for most of the clinical interventions that we make. And being able to have the capacity to attract more preeminent researchers and offer them first-class research facilities to do their work is going to position the Miller School among truly the elite research medical schools that are translating fundamental discoveries into clinical interventions to improve the health of humanity,” Ford said.

And with workforce shortages of cancer treatment specialists in the U.S. still a concern, the building could help spur more medical students to become oncologists, Ford added. “By being able to attract outstanding physician-scientists who are doing cutting-edge research in cancer, our students are going to be exposed to some of the leading clinicians and thought researchers in the field,” he said. “Without question, that will inspire our students to become clinicians who specialize in oncology, or even become physician-scientists with a focus on cancer.”

The building, proclaimed Nimer, represents a commitment to the South Florida community to continue world-class cancer treatment and the search for cures to wipe out the disease.

“This building is a symbol. We’ve been focusing on some cancers that are particularly lethal—pancreatic cancer, brain tumors and leukemia, and cancers that are prominent in our catchment area. This building will serve as a commitment to our community that we’re dedicated to the cause of conducting state-of-the-art research and clinical care to reduce the burden of cancer,” Nimer said.

“The low-hanging fruit in terms of cancer research has been plucked already,” Nimer added. “To make progress at this point requires a comprehensive and sophisticated effort. In the last 10 years, we’ve made huge progress against cancer, and the future of cancer research at Sylvester and nationwide is very promising. Ken’s gift will help us to continue to be pioneers and leaders in cancer research and treatment.”

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