MIT’s Ludwig Center receives $90 million for cancer research

Ludwig Cancer Research gifts $540 million to 6 centers

MIT’s Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology, housed within the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, has received a gift of $90 million from Ludwig Cancer Research to study metastasis, the spread of cancer from a primary tumor to other parts of the body. In FY2013, MIT received $58 million research funds from non-profits, according to the treasurer’s report.

MIT is one of a group of six institutions that received a total of $540 million to fund cancer research on behalf of late American shipping magnate Daniel K. Ludwig. This sum completes the Ludwig gifts to the endowment, bringing Ludwig Cancer Research’s total gifts to the Ludwig Centers to $900 million since their establishment in 2006. The other Ludwig Centers are located at Harvard University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Chicago, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Stanford University. The gift is the largest ever given to Harvard Medical School, according to HMS’s cell biology department chair Joan Brugge, and is “one of the largest in the Institute’s history,” according to an MIT press release.

“This funding will enable the centers to continue their pursuit of groundbreaking cancer discoveries,” said Ed McDermott, Ludwig trustee and president and CEO of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research. “It is our hope that this new funding — which is long-term and flexible in nature — will contribute in some small way to new discoveries.”

The philanthropic gift comes at a timely moment, said Weinberg, describing federal funding as “in freefall.”

“We’re in critical times for American biomedical research,” said Weinberg. “Research funding in the federal level has decreased, and in certain cases, effectively collapsed.”

“Having a permanent endowment that will support research in perpetuity will allow us to take on high-risk, high-reward research strategies, to take a long view and aim for a bigger impact than normal grant cycles might allow,” said George D. Demetri, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Quick Family Chair of Medical Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Federal funding, for example from the National Institutes of Health, funds specific projects based on the “ability to write convincing research proposals,” said Weinberg. With its gift, however, “the Ludwig has invested in the track records of those who are participating with the assurance that there will be productivity in the future.”

MIT’s portion of the gift will go towards research on metastasis. “Metastasis is responsible for 90 percent of cancer-related deaths, yet we still understand little about how it begins. These funds should change that,” said Robert Weinberg, director of MIT’s Ludwig Center. “Our hope is that our research will translate into new methods to better diagnose cancer and provide better prognostic tools,” said Jacks. According to McDermott, the Ludwig Centers at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, UChicago, Sloan-Kettering, and Stanford have respectively focused on cancer therapy resistance, prevention and early detection, metastasis and hormone/radiation-based treatments, immunology and immunotherapy, and stem cells.

According to Tyler Jacks, a Ludwig Scholar and director of the Koch Institute, MIT will be able to “add new investigators to our team” with the gift, from biologists to engineers. The gift will also be supplemental funding to projects that do have other, but “inadequate,” sources of funding. Because the sum is “directed at a small group,” said Jacks, it is a significant amount, accounting for “at least 50 percent if not more of research dollars directed towards metastasis [at MIT].”