Three Things to Know About the Health Philanthropy of Robert and Renee Belfer

The Belfer family has seen its share of highs and lows. Businessman Arthur Belfer fled Poland in the 1930s, dealt feathers in the states (including providing sleeping bags to the U.S. Army) and then founded an oil empire that is now in its third generation. When Arthur's son Robert took over the family business, he continued his father's success. That all changed when Belfer's millions of shares in Enron went belly up.

Belfer has diversified into other areas and while he's no longer on the Forbes 400 list, his family foundation appears to be going strong and has even ramped up its philanthropy in recent years, giving away more than $9 million at the end of 2012.

Related - Robert A. and Renee E. Belfer Family Foundation: Grants for Disease 

Health is the area that Belfer and his wife Renee care about most deeply. Here are a few things to know about their giving. 

1. Cancer is key, but the Belfers have wide interests and sit on many boards

Belfer is a chair of the board at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and is on the boards of Weill Cornell University Medical College, the Dana Farber Cancer Center, and Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery. Renee, meanwhile, is a member of the New York Weill Cornell Council. All of these institutions have received million-dollar sums in recent years and cancer appears to be a top priority. 

2. They're keen on research, and have often given big to build new research centers

The Belfers have bankrolled the Belfer Research Building at Weill Cornell Medical College, which was founded earlier this year and will serve as a site for centers in cancer, cardiovascular disease, global health, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. 

At the Dana Farber Cancer Center, the couple has underwritten the Belfer Institute for Applied Cancer Science. The family's relationship with Dana Farber goes back a ways, to when Arthur and his wife's family foundation started supporting the center.  

Robert and Renee Belfer also gave the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston $25 million in 2012 to help establish the Neurodegeneration Consortium. Of interest to the consortium are diseases such as Alzheimers. In 2013, MD Anderson received another gift of around $1 million.  

3. Smaller sums have gone to a wide variety of causes

In recent years, the couple has given gifts generally under $10,000 annually to MS Research Center, the Food Allergy Initiative, and the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.