$35 Million Gift Supports Construction of Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building

By Bill Gordon

A gift of $35 million-the largest contribution from individual donors in UCSF history-has been made by the Helen Diller Family foundation to support construction of a new cancer research building at UCSF Mission Bay. The facility will be named the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building in recognition of the family’s pivotal role in making the research center possible.

“We are native San Franciscans, and are proud to give back to our community,” said Helen Diller, now a resident of San Mateo County.  “Our family is extremely enthused about cancer research at UCSF. By supporting the new Mission Bay campus we are not only aiding the scientists researching a cure for this devastating disease, but also we have been presented with the joy of participating in the development of an entirely new section of this very beautiful city.”

UCSF Chancellor J. Michael Bishop, MD, will announce the gift from the Helen Diller Family Supporting Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund and the name for the planned building at a dedication ceremony today (Tuesday, October 28) celebrating the first phase of the new UCSF Mission Bay campus.

“With the Diller Family’s remarkable support, we are accelerating the transformation of Mission Bay from abandoned rail yards into one of the 21st century’s great biomedical research centers,” Bishop said. 
The Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building will be a prominent feature of the new, 43-acre campus that promises to add 2.65-million square feet of new research and teaching space. UCSF Mission Bay lies at the heart of the larger Mission Bay project, San Francisco’s largest urban development effort since the building of Golden Gate Park.

Designed by noted architect Rafael Vinoly, the five-story building will provide more than 160,000 square feet to researchers at the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center, the only cancer center in Northern California to hold the National Cancer Institute’s prestigious “comprehensive” designation. The new space will enable a dramatic expansion of programs focused on cancers of the prostate, kidney and brain. It will also house the UCSF Cancer Research Institute, whose 15 major laboratories investigate the basic biological mechanisms of cancer.

Plans for the building must go before the UC Board of Regents for approval before construction can begin.

“UCSF cancer researchers are on the verge of discoveries that will improve lives around the world,” said Diller. “What could be more rewarding than helping to speed their progress toward these breakthroughs?”

Phyllis Cook, director of the San Francisco Federation’s Jewish Community Endowment Fund, who works with the Dillers to assist them in achieving their philanthropic goals, said that the family understood the importance of making this extraordinary gift at this time in order to hasten construction of the cancer research building.

“The Dillers are visionaries who make strategic grants in their effort to do something significant for their community as well as for society at large,” said Cook. “They realized that supporting cancer research at UCSF Mission Bay embodies many of their philanthropic goals.”

The new building will fuel the robust cancer research enterprise that has flourished at UCSF for more than 30 years, harking back to the early 1970s when Chancellor Bishop and his colleague Harold Varmus, discovered that cancer occurs when normal cellular genes go awry. This discovery, which led to the award of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Bishop and Varmus, entirely transformed the field of cancer research.

The building, which will supplement the ongoing cancer research program at UCSF Mount Zion, will more than double the existing space dedicated to cancer research at UCSF.  The new building will house researchers working on the entire gamut of modern cancer research, including studies on cancer prevention, the role of environmental factors and genes that contribute to cancer risk, analysis of tumor suppressors and oncogenes that directly influence the behavior of the cancer cell, discovery of new molecular markers that indicate the existence of cancer, its degree of aggressiveness and response to therapy, and ultimately new pharmacological, immunotherapy and gene therapy techniques for cancer treatment.

The new building will also allow the full or partial consolidation of several key programs that have been spread across the various UCSF campus, including the Brain Tumor Research Center, the Genito-Urinary Oncology program (prostate, kidney, bladder cancer), and the population sciences program, a multi-disciplinary field that includes epidemiology, chemoprevention, screening, health communication, behavioral science, health services, policy, surveillance, and survivorship research. The consolidation of these programs, and their proximity to many others, will foster new interactions and promote new discoveries. In addition, the proximity of these programs to the Cancer Research Institute will greatly improve the opportunities for cross fertilization between basic research aimed at understanding the fundamental properties of the cancer cell and translational research aimed directly at enhancing patient care.

The building overall will promote new interactions and collaborations between the cancer researchers within its walls and with scientists in nearby Genentech Hall, the first building to have risen at UCSF Mission Bay. Such interactions, a hallmark of the UCSF scientific culture, will, for instance, allow investigators who study enzymes that contribute to the incessant growth of the cancer cell to work closely with investigators in Genentech Hall who are developing novel inhibitors of the same type of enzymes. Likewise, potential collaborations that are not even recognized at this point will certainly emerge through the cross-pollination of ideas fostered by close proximity. It is through such new and collaborative interactions, that the faculty at UCSF will invent new techniques for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the years to come.