$25 million gift for bench-to-bedside research

Lucile Packard ChildrenÂ’s Hospital Jill and John Freidenrich

Jill and John Freidenrich are giving $25 million to the medical school to launch a center devoted to translating basic science discoveries into new therapies.

Jill and John Freidenrich, alumni and longtime supporters of Stanford, will give $25 million to the School of Medicine to boost its work in translational research in cancer and other diseases. The gift is one of the school's largest single contributions to date.

The gift will establish the Jill and John Freidenrich Center for Translational Research at Stanford University, designed to be the hub for the school's work in translational medicine, which will occur in close partnership with the Stanford Hospital & Clinics and the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. The center, to be located on Welch Road in Palo Alto, will house clinical trials in cancer and new faculty working in translational medicine, as well as biostatisticians, research nurses and others involved in the process of turning new discoveries into treatments.

"It's one thing to do research. But if you really want to help people who are ill, you want to develop the best therapies and then conduct clinical trials," said John Freidenrich, a lawyer turned venture capitalist and investor. "We have to find more ways to go from the bench to clinical trials to patients. Stanford has world-class researchers and clinicians, so I don't think there's any place better suited to carry out this work."

John Freidenrich, who received his undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford, once chaired the university's Board of Trustees and is a longstanding member of the board of Stanford Hospital and chair of the board at Packard Children's Hospital.

Jill Freidenrich, who also received a Stanford undergraduate degree, is a cancer survivor who became an advocate for women after suffering a bout with breast cancer in 1991. The disease struck her like an earthquake, leaving her terrified and unsure where to find help, she said.

"It came out of nowhere—you can't rehearse for something like that," she said. "With every woman who's diagnosed, it's the same. If only we could have a blueprint that would make it easier and more manageable."

She said a woman whom she barely knew reached out to her and became her "buddy for the journey," calling her every day during her treatment. Realizing the value of such supportive relationships, she co-founded the Community Breast Health Project in Palo Alto in 1993, a resource center and support network for those with breast cancer. She remains actively involved in the group today.

The experience affected their entire family, John Freidenrich said, and intensified his desire to help the medical school realize its strategic goal of "translating discoveries," the process of turning new laboratory findings into therapies for patients.

"Jill and John Freidenrich are remarkable, wonderful individuals who are deeply committed to Stanford and to our community," said Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. "They have recognized that making the connections between the laboratory and the patient requires more than words. It requires a Stanford Medical Center-wide effort that aligns basic and clinical scientists across the university with doctors, nurses and other care providers through translational and clinical research. I am deeply grateful for their vision and generosity. "

The gift comes at a time when Stanford's cancer center is seeking official designation from the National Cancer Institute. Beverly Mitchell, MD, deputy director of the Stanford Cancer Center, said the Freidenrich gift will provide vitally needed support for that effort, helping the school expand its clinical research program, particularly in solid tumors, and develop novel drugs. "This gift will make all the difference in what we will be able to do in the coming years," said Mitchell, who will serve as director of the Freidenrich Center.

The plan is to house the center in a new, 32,000-square-foot building at 800 Welch Road, formerly the home of the Stanford Blood Center. The building will provide space for the Cancer Clinical Trials Office, which coordinates ongoing human studies. Stanford currently has more than 2,000 adults and children enrolled in 260 trials involving new therapies to prevent and treat cancers; some of these are multicenter studies in which Stanford plays a role. Mitchell said she hopes the gift will spawn more trials initiated by Stanford investigators.

The center is also designed to make trials more readily accessible to patients and encourage them to participate—not always an easy task, Jill Freidenrich said. "The more who say yes to clinical trials, the faster we'll get answers," she said.

The center will house up to 10 new faculty in translational medicine, including specialists in breast and gastrointestinal cancers and head and neck tumors, Mitchell said. In addition, it will include an expanded group in biostatistics, the bedrock for all clinical trials, as well as support personnel and equipment.

But the center won't focus on cancer alone. John Freidenrich said he expects it to serve as the basis for a range of programs in translational medicine at the school. "One of my hopes is to jumpstart all of translational research activities at the medical center," he said.