Cancer Center receives largest-ever donation for the university

Courtney Sinner

The University announced Thursday that it received $65 million from Minnesota Masonic Charities to fund cancer research.

The gift, the largest in University history and to any public university in Minnesota, will be distributed over the next 15 years.

The University of Minnesota Cancer Center will also be renamed the Masonic Cancer Center.

University President Bob Bruininks said the University will be able to maintain and improve its global status as a leader in cancer research because of the gift.

The University has a 53-year tradition with Minnesota Masonic Charities. With this donation, the group’s support for the University will top $100 million.

Dr. Douglas Yee, director of the Masonic Cancer Center, said the gift will be used to enhance existing projects, supplement grant money cuts and start new research initiatives.

“We’ve had an upward trajectory for the past 10 years,” Yee said. “This makes sure we can fill in the gaps and continue to develop new initiatives.”

The donation has been in the works for the past couple of years, Minnesota Masonic Charities President and CEO Eric Neetenbeek said.

“The University wanted to expand their research programs and needed some help to begin that endeavor,” Neetenbeek said.

Frank Cerra, senior vice president for the Academic Health Center, handled negotiations with the organization. He said the detailed negotiations involved everything from how the money will be distributed to the exact wording of the center’s new name.

“If you’re not on the same page, it ain’t gonna happen,” Cerra said.

Martin Dworkin, former director of the Combined M.D./Ph.D. Training Program for the University, said donations like this are becoming more important as state funding dwindles. It also keeps the University competitive.

“This catapults our cancer center into the top ranks,” Dworkin said.

Terry Bock, associate vice president for the Academic Health Center, said the $65 million gift will push the University closer to its goal of being a top-three research institution.

“This will move our medical school into the top 20,” he said. “You can’t be a top-three research school without your medical school being in the top 20.”

Earlier this week, the University received $292 million for a biomedical research program from a Minnesota state bonding bill.

“It’s a good day, it’s been a good week – research buildings and cash,” Bock said, in reference to bonding bill funds.