June 21, 2010

Kimmel Center receives $20 mill for pancreas cancer research, care

Daniel Laheru and Elizabeth Jaffee are co-directors of the Skip Viragh Center for Pancreas Cancer Clinical Research and Patient Care. Photo: Keith Weller

Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center has been awarded the largest gift for pancreas cancer research in its history. The $20 million award was made possible by Albert P. “Skip” Viragh Jr., a mutual fund leader and a pancreas cancer patient treated at Johns Hopkins. He died of the disease at age 62.

The funds formally establish the Skip Viragh Center for Pancreas Cancer Clinical Research and Patient Care, which will be directed by Elizabeth Jaffee, the Dana and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli Professor in Oncology; and Daniel Laheru, the Ian T. MacMillian Professor in Clinical Pancreatic Cancer Research.

The center brings together the extensive pancreas cancer laboratory and clinical expertise already in place at Johns Hopkins and cutting-edge research discoveries to improve patient care. The center also allows for the expansion of current internationally recognized clinical programs and the development of promising new ideas in pancreas cancer, as well as support for promising new research by young investigators.

Skip Viragh was considered one of the region’s most influential mutual fund investment authorities. He founded Rydex Investments, based in Rockville, Md., and grew the business from a three-person operation to a 200-employee enterprise with $10 billion in assets under management.

“This extraordinary gift has significantly strengthened our abilities on every front and will enable Johns Hopkins physician-scientists from many disciplines to find new ways to prevent, treat and ultimately cure pancreas cancer,” Jaffee said.

Pancreas cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer deaths and one of the most lethal: Only 5 percent of patients survive five years after diagnosis.

“From research to education to helping us recruit the very best new talent, the center will make a huge difference in patients’ lives for many decades to come,” Laheru said.

William Nelson, director of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, said, “The Viragh gift builds on the already strong foundation of discovery and innovation at Johns Hopkins, including the first mapping of the pancreas cancer genome, a therapeutic vaccine, perfecting the Whipple surgical procedure and expertise in diagnosis and staging.”

Johns Hopkins also is home to the National Familial Pancreas Tumor Registry.

Katherine Viragh, sister of the center’s namesake, said, “We believe investing in Johns Hopkins’ expertise will have a significant impact on its scientists’ ability to conquer this disease. Losing a loved one to pancreas cancer is devastating, and our hope is that the Skip Viragh Center for Pancreas Cancer Clinical Research and Patient Care will help make the world a better place for cancer patients.”

A new website launched with the gift— www.hopkinsmedicine.org/pancreascancer
—contains comprehensive information about pancreas cancer treatment and research at the Skip Viragh Center.