From a 'visionary investor,' flexibility for innovative research

Two years after Bob Arnold's unprecedented $15 million donation to the Hutchinson Center, its benefits touch all scientific divisions
Robert M. Arnold
Robert M. Arnold's $15 million unrestricted gift in 2005 has supported recruitment of several new researchers and the purchase of new Shared Resources equipment. The Arnold Building, home to much of the Public Health Sciences Division, is named in his honor. Center News File Photo

Robert M. Arnold's presence at the Hutchinson Center should be obvious to anyone walking across campus or driving along Fairview Avenue North in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. As the donor of the single largest individual gift in the Center's history, Arnold's name graces the newest and largest campus building, home of the Public Health Sciences Division.

But what may be less apparent — even to those who work here — is the far-reaching impact of his $15 million gift on the innovative science that takes place in every research division.

'All of us have benefited'

Unlike gifts that are dedicated to advancing knowledge in a particular area of study, Arnold's $15 million donation in early 2005 was "flexible," or unrestricted. Gifts of this kind entrust the Center's leadership with deciding how to best use the funds to benefit the institution as a whole. In the case of Arnold's gift, said Dr. Lee Hartwell, president and director, the donation has been instrumental to the Center's ability to recruit several outstanding scientists, purchase equipment to ensure that the institution's shared resources remain at the cutting edge, leverage additional funding from foundations, and pursue other scientific priorities.

"All of us have benefited from Bob's gift during the past two years," Hartwell said. "A major reason why the Hutchinson Center is a leader among biomedical-research institution is because of our ability to quickly act on unexpected research opportunities with a high potential for scientific or medical benefit. Flexible philanthropic gifts are often the only source of financial support that allows us to pursue these opportunities."

The Center also greatly benefits from and depends on restricted donations, which allow the institution to significantly advance the progress of targeted research areas.

Though the Hutchinson Center reaps more grant money from the National Institutes of Health than any other independent biomedical-research institution in the nation, many institutional costs are not covered by federal funding sources, said Randy Main, chief financial officer. What's more, as the NIH budget continues to be scaled back compared to recent years, grants are becoming increasingly hard to obtain for even the most accomplished investigators.

"Each year, we commit a significant portion of our budget to faculty salary support, investment in our shared resource labs and bridge funding for investigators who may be between grant cycles, have had their NIH grant budgets cut or would like to pursue new research projects that require pilot funding," Main said. "All of these activities are critical for making sure that the Center attracts and retains the best scientists in their fields and for advancing our mission, but they are expenses that cannot be covered solely by NIH funds."

Flexible philanthropic gifts are so critical to the Center's mission that the Development Department has recently launched a new program, the President's Circle, that aims to raise at least $2 million annually in flexible individual gifts of $10,000 or more. The structure of the President's Circle program is designed to provide a funding base of support equivalent to millions in endowment to ensure the Center can quickly advance innovative research and ideas that are not yet eligible for federal grants.

With the unpredictable nature of scientific discovery, the value of Arnold's flexible gift — and others like it — cannot be understated, Hartwell said.

"What makes Bob a visionary investor is that he appreciates what all of our scientists know: that when it comes to eliminating cancer, we never know when or how the next breakthrough will emerge."

Recent benefits of flexible gifts include faculty recruitment, new technology, foundation grants

  • Recruitment of Drs. M. Elizabeth (Betz) Halloran and Ira Longini, internationally recognized experts in using mathematical models to understand the spread and control of infectious diseases, including HIV, influenza and malaria; Dr. Sunil Hingorani, who has engineered the first mouse model of pancreatic cancer, which opens the door to the discovery of new treatments as well as diagnostic tests for early detection of this deadly malignancy; and Dr. Marc Van Gilst, who has developed a novel system using worms to study the physiological response to dietary fats, nutrients and environmental toxins, which may yield insight into treatment of diabetes, obesity and cancer.

  • The Center's Shared Resources has acquired new imaging technologies that enable scientists to visualize tumor onset and growth in mice, an important first step in developing new cancer diagnostic tests and treatments to benefit patients; new microarray equipment, which allows scientists to examine the activity of thousands of genes simultaneously, providing the foundation for new tests to predict disease prognosis or uncover targets for drugs or other treatments; and new flow-cytometry equipment, which is used to determine physical characteristics of cells that may help scientists learn how to detect cancer earlier and to predict and monitor response to therapy.

  • Many prestigious foundation grants do not pay for the full cost of conducting major research projects. Flexible funding has contributed to the Center's ability to garner a number of recent foundation grants, including two awards totaling $40 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support HIV vaccine-research projects and $5 million from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation for a project on early cancer detection.

Help Us Eliminate Cancer

Every dollar counts. Please support lifesaving research today.