• Oracle co-founder's donation to fund new building, programs
  • Cancer center to tackle fundamental questions about disease

Larry Ellison, co-founder of database giant Oracle Corp., has given $200 million to the University of Southern California to create a new center that will focus on cancer research.

The institute aims to bring together a diverse range of researchers, including physicists, mathematicians and engineers, to tackle fundamental questions about the disease, according to David Agus, a professor of medicine and engineering who will be the director of the new Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine.

Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison
Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

“To me, cancer is a verb: You don’t get cancer, you’re either in a well state or a cancer state, so my job is to change you from a cancerous state to a healthy state,” Agus said late Wednesday in a telephone interview. The institute will seek new ways of describing and understanding cancer, moving away from the traditional approach of categorizing cancers by body part, he said.

Cancer researchers in the past few years have developed a wave of new treatments that have the potential to bring patients more personalized, targeted therapy. The excitement in the field has attracted the attention of more billionaires besides Ellison.

Multimillion-Dollar Gifts

Sean Parker, former president of Facebook Inc., announced in April a $250 million gift to create a research institute dedicated to developing treatments that harness the immune system to combat cancer. In March, Michael Bloomberg and philanthropist Sidney Kimmel led a $125 million donation to create a new cancer institute at John Hopkins University that’s also focused on immunotherapy treatments. Bloomberg is the majority owner of Bloomberg LP, parent company of Bloomberg News, and former mayor of New York.

Ellison has a net worth of more than $42 billion, according to Bloomberg data. He’s now chairman and chief technology officer of Oracle. He’s joined Warren Buffett’s pledge to give away more than half of his wealth to charity. More recently, he made a list of U.S. billionaires who gave away the most money last year. A representative for Ellison didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on why the billionaire decided to fund this research center.

Ellison’s gift will mainly be used to fund the new building, which will open in about 2 1/2 years, according to Agus. The donation also will be used to support residency programs and research projects that will begin immediately.

“There will be clinics, engineering labs, think tanks, and kids will be able to go on tours all day because we need to excite the next generation,” Agus said. “We’ll also have artists and chefs in resident to get people to understand cancer and the emotion around it. It will be the first of its kind.”

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