Donations to the $1 billion Knight Cancer Challenge came from far and wide.

Phil Knight and wife, Penny, pledged $500 million in October 2013 to Oregon Health & Science University if it could raise a matching amount.

Consumer Cellular, which donated $2 million just this week, answered the call. So did Columbia Sportswear’s Gert Boyle, who chipped in a cool $100 million. The state of Oregon contributed $200 million in bonds.

And from Knight Cancer Institute chief Dr. Brian Druker’s own daughter came $16, which she dug out of her piggy bank. More on that in a moment.

Two years after its journey began, OHSU rose to the “Challenge,” exceeding the $500 million donation mark this week. Philanthropy experts are calling it the most successful matching campaign ever. And what’s made it even sweeter is that, according to OHSU Foundation President Keith Todd, 75 percent of the donations came from Oregon.

We caught up with Druker, whose work with the drug Gleevec helped propel the Knight Cancer Institute into the national spotlight, for some insight into how his group will operate post-Challenge.

Was there any one big donation that got you over? Was there anyone who said, you’re just ‘X’ amount away? Well, Keith Todd was the one who knew what the numbers were. I knew we were close and that people were wanting to put us over the top. I talked about it at the dinner table the other night and my daughter went and grabbed her piggy bank and offered the $16 that was in there. She wanted to be the one to put us over the top.

So now she can say she was the one who made it happen? She can, so can the 10,000 other people who contributed.

You’re a big runner. Were you running when you found out you were going to pass the mark? No, I don’t really know if there was an “exact moment” story. I knew we were getting there and was planning for the “what happens next” part. Suddenly, I was on a call and Keith told me, “We’re done.” To me, the issue wasn’t about raising money, it’s about having an impact on the fight against cancer. So I’m happy for the donors, but I have to get to work now. I have to start recruiting people. I can take a congratulatory lap, but then I have to go back and start a marathon.

You mentioned recruiting. Is that what’s going to be on your plate for, say, the next four to six months? The plans are to reach out to many more people with recruiting efforts. It’s about getting our early detection program in place … We want to be diligent in our approach. It’s the same approach I took with Gleevec: We surveyed the landscape and said, what’s the best target that would be manageable? With that, we landed on the enzyme that drives growth of (chronic myeloid leukemia) and we worked with the drug community to develop medicines. We’ll take the same approach: What are the best targets? How do we identify them and get into clinics? We’ll focus on ways to launch a new paradigm for early detection based on knowledge.

We’ve talked before about how Knight Cancer Institute’s growth could drive other biotech efforts around Portland. Do you feel like we’re a little closer to that reality today? I’m always careful about things outside of my control. Right now, we’re focusing on recruiting great people. Our goal is to hire 200 to 300 scientists. We’ll certainly look for people who have the desire to commercialize their findings. My hope is that we’ll fight cancer. If there’s an impact on Portland’s biotech community, that’s fine.

Have you talked to Phil Knight yet? I sure have. He and Penny are extremely pleased. To be able to tell them we reached the goal early and inspired more than 10,000 people to give, from kids doing bake sales to Gert Boyle giving $100 million, was special.

It really does seem to have galvanized the community. It did. Businesses rallied behind it, labor, Republicans, Democrats — the Legislature voted 85 to 5 (for the $200 million bond plan). Everyone from every walk of life offered support. This touched everybody.

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Jun 26, 2015
Andy Giegerich
Portland Business Journal