Penn Medicine has announced a $21 million gift to the Basser Center for BRCA from Jon Gray, global head of real estate at private equity and asset management firm Blackstone Group, and his wife, Mindy.
The gift from the Grays, both Penn alumni ('92), will establish an endowment for the Basser Center, which focuses on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations that increase the risk of developing hereditary breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancers. The couple established the center in 2012 with a $25 million gift in honor of Mindy Gray's sister, who died of BRCA-related ovarian cancer at the age of 44. The latest commitment from the Grays, which brings their total support for the organization to $55 million, will help advance efforts to uncover biomarkers enabling the early detection of ovarian cancer; test treatment and prevention strategies that use personalized cellular therapies; and extend the reach of the center's preventive care and educational programs.
The center's achievements over the past five years include discoveries related to the DNA repair mechanisms that drive ovarian cancer's resistance to chemotherapy; the testing of a vaccine for cancer recurrence among patients with BRCA-associated cancer; clinical trials showing that PARP inhibitors can shrink tumors; and the development of a genetic counseling model that expands access to genetic testing and counseling via phone and videoconferencing technologies. The center also has awarded grants to projects aimed at preventing molecular changes in cells that lead to cancer, extending educational resources to at-risk populations, and better understanding racial disparities in BRCA mutations and associated cancers.
"Mindy and Jon have directed their visionary philanthropy to a most critical area in medicine," said University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann. "They have enabled Penn to create a unique model of cancer care that thrives on collaboration and personal engagement. Their support is already saving the lives of patients with — and at risk for — BRCA mutations. The possibility of eliminating genetic diseases increases exponentially because of their generosity and personal commitment. They are an exceptional example of Penn alumni who are making a positive difference in the world."
Jon Gray told Bloomberg that he and his wife created the center to bring research, care, and genetic counseling for BRCA-related cancers into a single hub within the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine. "The idea was, if we created one hub, could we accelerate things?" said Gray. "We now have some tangible progress on multiple fronts. When you get to that point, you want to do more."