Another tycoon writes a big check for cancer R&D: So what?

Lab work

Tech oligarch Larry Ellison is throwing some big money at cancer research.

A few weeks ago it was Sean Parker of Facebook fame and his $250 million contribution for an immuno-oncology network of top institutions and investigators. Today it’s Larry Ellison’s turn to write a big check, this time for $200 million to help erect an eponymous oncology research center: The Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC. 

The big picture, as explained in advance to Fortune, includes not only hosting interdisciplinary sets of research teams to cross-pollinate new work, but also a more holistic approach that includes a focus on diet as well as the role of art in patient treatment.

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So what's the big deal about celebrity cancer research projects?

The new shower of cash for cancer research comes at a time of major advances in fighting cancer, with checkpoint inhibitors and combination therapies coming into play as the first wave of CAR-T drugs are in pivotal trials. Industry giants like Merck ($MRK), Roche ($RHHBY), AstraZeneca ($AZN), Bristol-Myers ($BMY) and Pfizer ($PFE) have been pumping billions of dollars into the field--in search of a much, much bigger return--while the NIH continues to fund billions of dollars of academic studies each year. And Vice President Joe Biden has been proselytizing the administration's $1 billion cancer initiative.

For the researchers who gravitate into the new center at USC, it’s a chance to do more with less paperwork involved. But it’s hard to see how any one effort like this--or the other billionaires' pet projects--can spark any major new breakthroughs in cancer research.

David Agus, a professor at USC who’s treated some big names, will run the new center, which breaks ground in about 6 months. 

“About two years ago, we [Ellison and Agus] were sitting in Malibu having this conversation,” Agus, who runs USC’s Westside Cancer Center and the Center for Applied Molecular Medicine, told Fortune. “Larry glommed on to it right away and told me I have to convince the university and get all of the pieces together.”

No doubt backing up his enthusiasm with $200 million in cash helped make the case.

- read the Fortune piece


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