October 14, 2013- La Jolla, California – Philanthropic gift comes through San Diego Foundation just weeks after discovery of new target for blocking disease progression.

A $1 million gift from the Hervey family of San Diego, Calif., will enable a team of cancer scientists at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (Sanford-Burnham) to advance their breakthrough research in the treatment of melanoma.

The gift was a grant from The Hervey Family Fund administered by The San Diego Foundation. It comes just weeks after the team, led by Ze’ev Ronai, Ph.D., professor and scientific director of Sanford-Burnham in La Jolla, and collaborators at Yale University School of Medicine announced that the PDK1 gene plays a key role in formation and metastasis of melanoma tumors. The finding identifies PDK1 as a new target for treating metastatic melanoma, which is incurable at present.

“The Hervey family’s support demonstrates the power of serendipity in scientific research,” said Gregory T. Lucier, chairman of Sanford-Burnham’s Board of Trustees and chairman and CEO of Life Technologies. “Their generosity is perfectly timed to help the Ronai team pursue this new discovery into the therapeutic realm. We are grateful to the Herveys and to The San Diego Foundation for making the gift possible.”

The Hervey support will enable the research team to explore PDK1 inhibitors as well as novel components along the PDK1 pathway, so that they are able to pinpoint those that should be targeted to halt melanoma metastasis and overcome resistance to therapy.

“We are very excited about our support for the research at Sanford-Burnham,” said Matt Hervey. “Our family has suffered from skin cancer, so to see its defeat is a personal battle. The scientists at the Institute are doing marvelous research. Because advances in medicine will continue to come at an ever-so-faster pace, we want them to be equipped and prepared to meet that pace.”

The PDK1 gene is known to be active in normal cell processes such as cell metabolism and protein translation, and it has been implicated in some types of cancer, such as pancreatic cancer. The study led by Ronai was the first to show that the PDK1 gene is required for the development and metastasis of melanoma. Findings from the research have been published in the journalOncogene.

“This gift will make it possible to accelerate our collaborative efforts, spanning bi-coastal institutions, enabling assessment of clinical samples as well as innovative drug discovery initiatives, to a level that would not have been possible before the Hervey family’s gift,” said Ronai, who serves as deputy director of the Institute’s National Cancer Institute [NCI]-Designated Cancer Center. “We are now in a position to catalyze assessment of a new potential therapeutic paradigm, paving the road for new discoveries that address the most critical questions in the clinical management of melanoma.”

Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. The NCI ranks it as the fifth most common type of new cancer diagnosis in American men and the sixth in American women. An estimated 76,700 will be diagnosed with the disease and 9,500 will die of it in 2013. Melanoma has a disproportionate impact on San Diego, where legendary sunshine comes at a price. In a study of melanoma rates in the 100 largest U.S. cities, The Daily Beast compiled a ranking of “20 Sunburn Capitals” where risks and deaths were highest. San Diego made the list and posted the highest incidence of melanoma at 29.1 per 100,000.

“While I led the American Cancer Society, we had a mission to rid out cancer entirely,” said Bob Kelly, president and CEO of The San Diego Foundation. “That drive has never faltered in me, having seen so many people battle with the silent but devastating disease. Scientists and researchers have advanced light-years, and this grant gets us that even closer to a cure.”

About Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute 
Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute is dedicated to discovering the fundamental molecular causes of disease and devising the innovative therapies of tomorrow. Sanford-Burnham takes a collaborative approach to medical research with major programs in cancer, neurodegeneration, cardiometabolic disorders, and infectious, inflammatory, and childhood diseases. The Institute is recognized for its National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Center and expertise in stem-cell and drug discovery technologies. Sanford-Burnham is a nonprofit, independent institute that employs 1,200 scientists and staff in San Diego (La Jolla), California, and Orlando (Lake Nona), Florida. For more information, visit us at sanfordburnham.org.

Kate Callen
Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute
(858) 795-5454