Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Denny Sanford Donates $100 Million for Stem Cell Research at UC San Diego

Denny Sanford, UC San Diego photo
The richest man in South Dakota, a state that looks askance at human embryonic stem cell research, is giving $100 million to promote the stem cell field in California.

He is Denny Sanford, a 77-year-old billionaire who made his fortune in the credit card business. Sanford is donating the money to UC San Diego. In a press release from the university, he said,
“I believe we’re on the cusp of turning years of hard-earned knowledge into actual treatments for real people in need. I want this gift to push that reality faster and farther.”
The gift is not Sanford's first to stem cell research in the San Diego area. He gave $30 million to Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in 2008.

The announcement of the $100 million donation is the sort of news that excites the stem cell field globally but especially in California, where the state is funding stem cell research to the tune of $3 billion. The news helps generate optimism about the stem cell field and can create an environment that could attract more philanthropy and business investments.

That is not a small matter for the state's stem cell agency, which will run out of cash for new grants in 2017. Next month, directors of the agency are scheduled to take their first look at a proposed strategic roadmap for future funding, which may well involve a combination of public and private funding.

According to Gary Robbins of the San Diego UT, Sanford's latest gift is part of a $275 million stem cell effort at UC San Diego. Robbins said it will allow the university to hire 20 to 25 scientists, many of whom will be seeking stem cell agency grants, and also help to support recruitment of patients for clinical trials. UC San Diego has already received $138 million in 61 awards from the stem cell agency, ranking fourth among institutional recipients.

The UC San Diego press release yesterday also quoted David Brenner, vice chancellor for health services at the campus and a member of the California stem cell agency governing board, as saying,
“We are the only academic medical institution in the region with the scientists, physicians, facilities and clinical delivery system to bring the promise of stem cell therapies to fruition. No place in the world has a better chance of success.”
Larry Goldstein, currently director of the UC San Diego stem cell program, will head the new Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center at the school.

The news coverage on the gift, which included stories in the Los Angeles Times and other publications, contained a number of mentions of the state stem cell agency, a plus for the enterprise, which is working hard to raise its public visibility.

Sanford's latest gift is not his largest. He gave $400 million to Sanford Health, a diabetes research center in South Dakota in 2009. He has donated more than $1 billion altogether and intends to give away all his money by the time he dies. He likes to say, “Aspire to inspire before you expire.”

Sanford lives in Sioux Falls but has a home in the San Diego area, where he has long been active in the community as well as in support of Prop. 71, the measure that created the state stem cell agency in 2004.

Sanford is also a sailor, a particular point of interest for this writer, who has lived on a sailboat for the last 15 years south of the border. Sanford has been active in San Diego sailing circles for some time. But his interest goes back a number of decades. He raced sailboats on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota, where he grew up. And in 1973, he received the Bail Bond Award from the Wayzata Yacht Club on Lake Minnetonka for unspecified acts that demonstrated “the greatest love, spirit, and care for the Wayzata Yacht Club.”

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