Cancer Fight Steps Up in New York City

Influx of Donations Positions City as a Premier Location for Scientists



An influx of donations this month to support cancer research is positioning New York as a premier location for scientists at a time when major advances are happening in cancer treatment, but fewer public resources are available to study the deadly disease.

NYU Langone Medical Center is expected to announce on Wednesday a $50 million gift from Laura and Isaac Perlmutter. The established cancer institute, founded in 2001, will be renamed after the Perlmutters (Donor of the Day, A22).

The gift will enable NYU Langone to attract leading scientists, optimize current drug therapies and “do things like immunotherapy,” which uses a patient’s immune system to attack tumors, said Robert I. Grossman, dean and chief executive of NYU Langone.

The donation by the Perlmutters follows a $90 million gift this month from Ludwig Cancer Research, a New York City-based international network of scientists, to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to support immuno-oncology research.

New York’s Research Windfall

Where the big new cancer gifts are going:

NYU Langone Medical Center

$1.5 billion raised since 2008

$96.4 million spent in cancer research for fiscal 2013

232 cancer researchers

Weill Cornell Medical College

Cancer center director Lewis Cantley came from Harvard Medical School in 2012

Cancer scientists will occupy several floors of new 18-story, $650 million research building

Cancer center set up in 2008

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Its $90 million is part of $540 million given to six cancer centers

$900 million research endowment

Scientists helped develop melanoma drug

Sources: The centers and WSJ research

That gift was part of a $540 million donation made to six cancer centers. Ludwig Cancer Research, founded by American shipping magnate Daniel K. Ludwig, has invested $2.5 billion in cancer research to date.

Weill Cornell Medical College, which has a specialization in biomedical research, received $75 million from Sandra and Edward Meyer a few weeks ago. The gift will be used to establish a named cancer center to concentrate on precision medicine and on bringing “the very best in cancer care both at the bedside and in identifying new therapeutics to our patients,” said Laurie Glimcher, dean of Weill Cornell Medical College. The new center will focus on a centralized biobank, cancer genomics and computational biology.

The sequence of gifts can be explained a few ways, according to experts. New York City is home to a number of academic medical centers and research institutions and is seen by many as the future hub of biomedical research for the country. The city’s large population also means a steady stream of cancer patients, though the city’s institutions do attract people from other regions.

World-wide, resources are contracting for cancer research, but New York is home to many generous philanthropists. The Perlmutters and Meyers are New Yorkers and longtime donors to medical institutions.

Up until this month, New York was also unique in that it had unnamed cancer centers at two major medical institutions, something Dr. Grossman of NYU Langone called “ironic” in a “city with all this wealth.”

The naming opportunity for NYU Langone existed for many years, due to “all sorts of reasons,” said Dr. Grossman.

“We had to find the right donor and the right vision in what we wanted to do,” explained Dr. Grossman. “We didn’t have a donor that was significant to be able to do this.”

Over the last two years at Weill Cornell, the medical college has raised its profile in cancer research through the high-level appointments of two Harvard University scientists: Dr. Glimcher and her longtime colleague Lewis Cantley, who heads the Meyer Cancer Center.

The gift by Edward and Sandra Meyer —who are also trustees for NYU Langone Medical Center and who will join the Board of Overseers for Weill Cornell Medical College—was in the works for some time.

Mr. Meyer, a Cornell University alumnus, said he approached Weill Cornell about the gift and spent a “long time” figuring out which institution was best positioned to leverage the gift as the couple “marched around town.” The medical college’s building at 1300 York Ave. is now named for the Meyers.

“We just concluded based on our research…that Weill Cornell stood the best chance of making significant breakthrough discoveries,” said Mr. Meyer.

Many experts consider this a “golden age” of cancer research, but there is a current dwindling availability for public resources. According to Edward McDermott, the president and chief executive of Ludwig Cancer Research, the career of a young cancer researcher is “fraught with uncertainty and insecurity.” The result is that research is oriented toward the “prevailing funding interest,” he said.

In times of diminished resources, medical institutions that can offer a bigger package, more secure funding and better access to a pre-eminent college aren’t only going to retain scientists, but be attractive to others eager to pursue “high-risk, high-reward” cancer research, said Mr. McDermott.