UCSF Celebrates Grand Opening of Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building at Mission Bay

exterior view of Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building

UCSF officially opened the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building on its Mission Bay campus today with a ribbon-cutting and open house highlighting a new vision for cancer research, treatment, and prevention.

The research facility, designed by award-winning architect Rafael Viñoly, strengthens and expands the University’s commitment to translational research, which is the process of applying ideas, insights and discoveries generated through basic science to the treatment or prevention of human disease. It is the first UCSF building specifically focused on translational research for one particular disease.

The state-of-the-art building will house scientists investigating cancer’s basic biological mechanisms, including brain tumors, urologic oncology, pediatric oncology, cancer population sciences, and computational biology. For the first time ever, the scientists of the UCSF Brain Tumor Research Center, one of the largest and most comprehensive programs of its kind nationwide, will be united in one place.

“This is the manifestation of a vision our outstanding cancer specialists have been working toward for more than a decade,” said UCSF Chancellor J. Michael Bishop, who has been instrumental over the past 11 years in bringing development of the Mission Bay campus to fruition. “Thanks to the generous support of Helen Diller, her family and many others, UCSF now has an expanded home for its integrated research and clinical cancer program, with the ability to contribute in a significant manner to advancing cancer care throughout the world.”

A resident of the Bay Area, Helen Diller has a history of philanthropic giving to education, science and the arts.  She created the Helen Diller Family Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund 10 years ago.

In 2003, the Foundation made a generous $35 million grant to support construction of a cancer research building, and the facility was named the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building in recognition of the family’s pivotal role in making it possible.

With 163,865 gross square feet, the five-story building will more than double the UCSF laboratory space in buildings exclusively dedicated to cancer research.  UCSF’s overall commitment to cancer research is undertaken in laboratories and clinics across nearly all UCSF departments and facilities.

“Many UCSF cancer research programs are breaking new ground and exploring exciting new horizons that have enormous potential,” said Frank McCormick, PhD, FRS, director of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.  “This new building gives our basic scientists and clinical researchers the essential space they need to expand these programs.

“We are excited to open this extraordinary new research facility, and we are especially grateful for the Diller Family’s passionate philanthropic support,” he said.

The Diller building is now home to about 250 people – cancer scientists and their teams working in 33 labs. Eventually the building will house about 400, McCormick said.

Among the design features of the new building are interlocking L-shaped wings – one containing labs, the other containing offices – to foster interaction and collaboration among cancer researchers within its walls. The same collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas will extend to other programs throughout the 57 acre Mission Bay campus, which is one of the largest biomedical research and education campuses in the nation.

As UCSF proceeds with its plans to build a new medical center at Mission Bay, including a cancer specialty hospital, the proximity of the Diller research building will enable laboratory and clinical researchers to collaborate more closely, effectively speeding the translation of laboratory findings into improved patient care, McCormick said.

Other design highlights of the new cancer research building are a central atrium that creates a dramatic five-story open space and terraced floor levels that are linked by bridges and cascading stairways, creating stunning views to the surrounding community.

To commemorate the grand opening, UCSF assembled leading names from science, industry and venture capital for a symposium on the future of cancer research.

Biologist and genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter, PhD, explored potential new applications of gene sequencing for cancer-related medicine in a keynote address on “From Reading to Writing the Genetic Code.” His address outlined the implications of genomic research for understanding biology and highlighted the potential for new medical treatments.

A follow-up panel discussion featured Venter; Susan Desmond-Hellmann, UCSF chancellor designate and former president of product development at Genentech; and Brook Byers, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.  Moderated by McCormick, the discussion focused on tailoring the right drug to the right person at the right time and the theme “Personalized Medicine and the New Vision for Cancer Research, Treatment, and Prevention in the 21st Century.”

The new cancer research building and its programs are an integral part of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of the country’s leading cancer research and clinical care centers. In 2007, UCSF renamed its cancer center for Mrs. Diller in honor of her commitment to improving lives worldwide and for serving as a role model who inspires others to make a difference in their communities. 

The Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center builds on a tradition of scientific leadership in cancer at UCSF that began when UCSF established the country’s first Cancer Research Institute in 1948, nearly 25 years before the federal government declared the “war on cancer” a national priority.

Since then, the research enterprise has flourished. In the 1970s, UCSF researcher J. Michael Bishop, now Chancellor, and colleague Harold Varmus discovered proto-oncogenes, normal genes that can be converted to cancer genes by genetic damage.  This work, which led to Bishop and Varmus receiving the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, engendered the recognition that all cancer probably arises from damage to normal genes and provided new strategies for the detection and treatment of cancer. 

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. For further information, visit www.ucsf.edu.