Explaining a Transformational Gift for Research into a Rare Form of Cancer

A couple of years ago we wrote about the Margie and Robert E. Petersen Foundation, wondering if the deaths of both founders and subsequent lack of activity meant it was shutting down. Reports of the end of the Petersen foundation were at least partly exaggerated: The outfit best known for endowing the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, recently made one of its largest giftsand its biggest health give ever.

The Petersen foundation has given $15 million to the Neuroendocrine Tumor Research Foundation (NTRF), to fund research into this category of cancers. Though they can appear throughout the body, NETs most often appear in the GI tract, the pancreas, rectum, lungs and other sites. Some are slow-growing, some aggressive, but they're rare enough that they're often misdiagnosed early on.  

The NTRF described it as "transformational." As handsome an amount as that is, it doesn't seem like $15 million would be enough to transform a field of cancer research, but it makes sense in a category like NET, a condition which occurs rarely enough that it doesn't get as much federal research funding. And it also has fewer super-wealthy philanthropists who have personal experience with the condition.

Robert Petersen died in 2007 of neuroendocrine cancer, and Margie Petersen died in 2011, following a battle with breast cancer.

The Petersen Foundation has made some substantial health-related gifts before: In 2010, it gave $1.5 million to St. John’s Health Center Foundation in Santa Monica to establish the Margie Petersen Breast Center. In 2014, it gave $8.5 million to Children's Hospital Los Angeles, honoring the Petersen's two sons, who died in a plane crash. But the foundation's biggest move was the $30 million endowment for the Petersen Automotive Museum.

About 12,000 Americans are diagnosed with NET cancers each year—it's what Steve Jobs had. The causes and progress of the disease are poorly understood. The $15 million gift will provide $5 million a year for three years in funds and endowment to support research and investigators dedicated to a cure, according to the NTRF. The NTRF funds NET researchers around the world.

"A gift of this magnitude will greatly intensify the research that can be conducted in this rare disease space," said NET Research Foundation Executive Director Ron Hollander. "We will be reaching out to researchers throughout the U.S. and beyond to bring the best ideas and investigators to the cause of curing neuroendocrine cancers."

So is there any more gas in the Petersen foundation's tank? Or is this going to be the organization's last big check? We'll keep an eye on it.