News and analysis
June 25, 2015

Cancer Institute Meets Phil Knight's $500-Million Challenge-Grant Goal

Caitlin Carlson/OHSU Foundation

A PERFECT MATCH: Brian Druker, head of OHSU’s Knight Cancer Center, posed for an ad with donor Gert Boyle, who pledged $100 million toward a $500 million challenge.

Oregon Health & Science University announced today that it has reached a once unimaginable goal — raising $500 million in less than two years — and secured the $500 million matching gift promised by Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, in September 2013.

The $1 billion will help the university’s Knight Cancer Institute build a team of experts to develop new methods for detecting and treating deadly cancers as early as possible. It plans to recruit about 25 leading researchers, who will hire between 225 and 275 additional scientists and doctors. It will also build a new cancer-research center and clinics.

The Knights’ fundraising challenge is the largest ever documented, according to researchers at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. More than 10,000 donors from every state and five countries contributed to the university, more than half for the first time. Along the way, the challenge attracted $200 million from the State of Oregon and $100 million from Columbia Sportswear chairman Gert Boyle. A cluster of six or seven donations of more than a million each arrived over two days to push the campaign to its goal.

The Oregon Health & Science University Foundation has been furiously raising money over the past two years, with a third of its fundraising staff assigned to the Knight challenge, said foundation president Keith Todd. The foundation previously raised about $10 million a year for the institute, and lifting that total to $250 million for two consecutive years "looked like a potentially insurmountable hurdle," said Brian Druker, director of the institute.

"We didn’t want to leave $500 million on the table," he said. "It was always clear to me that whatever it took to meet that goal needed to be done."

He’s optimistic that the money raised will free researchers to focus on their work, not writing grant proposals.

"In exchange for that stability, we’ll have them work as a team with the goal to solving a problem: detecting cancer at its earliest and most curable stages," he said.

While raising the money was a huge feat, Dr. Druker said, the real challenge has just started. "I’m part of a triathlon and I just got off the bike. Now for me, the real work begins, which is recruiting a team to attack cancer."

Send an e-mail to Rebecca Koenig.