April 10, 2014

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Fighting the Cancer Battle

Jon M. Huntsman’s Far-reaching Vision for his “Cancer Research Central”

By Gaylen Webb, photos courtesy of Huntsman Cancer Institute

April 10, 2014

Building on the University of Utah’s history of successful technology commercialization, Huntsman also sees the institute’s latest expansion as a launch pad to create spinouts of medical companies and scientific research firms “that in turn will create thousands of other Utah jobs as they spin out various types of medical research.”

A Healthy Foundation

Cancer research is fantastically expensive, a black hole as Huntsman describes it. Several months ago he was in the heart of the Senate office building in Washington, D.C., chasing down two senators when they ducked into an office saying, “Quick, let’s hide. Here comes the cancer guy.” They were just kidding him, but Huntsman says he is trying to do all he can to get financial support for cancer research from the federal government. With the National Institutes of Health—one of the primary sources for research dollars—cutting research funding because of the budget crisis, other cancer research centers are suffering financially.

What does the future hold for Huntsman Cancer Institute? Can the Huntsman family afford to carry the entire load? Probably not. But Huntsman says he will never let funding be an issue, even if he has to “beg, borrow and steal. We will always find the funding and we will push this thing right on through and make it happen. If I have to become a general nuisance, so be it. I believe in this with all my heart and I don’t care. I’m not offending anybody. Cancer is no respecter of persons, political parties, religions or races.”

To be sure, the ground is actually well laid for the institute to continue into the future. Huntsman’s family created a charitable organization that will carry “a good portion of the expenses”—but not all of it—for the next 25 to 50 years. “We’ve established a healthy foundation for this purpose and so this isn’t something that we are going to see come to an end when I pass on,” he says. “We’ve done a lot of planning and given a great deal of thought to how this proceeds in the future.”

Despite his generosity and commitment to cancer research, Huntsman believes everyone has an obligation to chip in to help find cures or try to put this horrible disease in remission. And Utah, he says, is the ideal place to not only accomplish that, but to apply the institute’s research to all forms of medical diseases, be they diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure or any other type of disease.

“It’s always been my job to push the edge of the envelope as far and as fast and as heavy as I can, even though I know I incur the wrath of a lot of bureaucratic folks. At the institute, we have an ethic and a creed that we’ve all adopted to move as fast as humanly possible, certainly faster than our peer group,” he says. “The Huntsman Cancer Institute is on the leading edge of research technology compared to many other cancer institutes in the world. I think we have this crown jewel in Utah that very few people understand or really know much about, and it has become a world-class facility.”  

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