$75 million gift from Lokey to build stem cell institute

- By Ruthann Richter

Courtesy of Lorry I. Lokey Lorry Lokey

The medical school has received its largest gift ever from Lorry I. Lokey the founder of the company Business Wire, headquarted in San Francisco.

Lorry I. Lokey, the Business Wire founder and philanthropist, is giving $75 million to the School of Medicine to help build what is expected to be the nation's largest center for stem cell research, the medical school announced Oct. 6.

Lokey's gift will make possible a 200,000-square-foot facility to be known as the Lorry I. Lokey Stem Cell Research Building. The four-story structure on Campus Drive will house 350 scientists working together to capture the power of these cells in treating diseases as diverse as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. The school plans to break ground on the new laboratories at ceremonies on Oct. 27 and complete the building by the summer of 2010.

'Stem cells are going to be as significant as the silicon chip that created Silicon Valley,' said Lokey, who recently increased substantially the commitment he made to the building in February 2007. 'Stem cells are going to introduce an entirely new field of medicine for extending lives and improving the quality of life.'

His gift - the largest to the medical school from a private individual and one of the largest capital gifts to Stanford - will help build a new home for the Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine Institute, one of the medical school's five major research institutes. Work in the building will cover the full array of stem cell research, including studies in embryonic and adult cells, in cancer stem cells and in the development of disease-specific stem cell lines.

'Without question Lorry Lokey is one of the most remarkable people I have met in my life,' said medical school Dean Philip Pizzo, MD. 'He is deeply committed to institutions and causes that will transform the world - by educating students or by promoting science and medicine. Over the years he has conveyed his deep interest in stem cell biology and his belief that this area of research will impact science and ultimately improve the human condition. Thanks to his generosity we'll have the opportunity to move his vision closer to reality.'

With the stem cell gift, Lokey will have committed more than half a billion dollars of his personal fortune to philanthropic ventures, much of it for education and science. He previously contributed $20 million to Stanford for the Lorry I. Lokey Laboratory Building, which houses research labs for the Departments of Chemistry and of Biological Sciences.

Lokey said he was motivated to support stem cell research after the Bush administration set severe restrictions on federal funding in this field in 2001. 'I'm terribly disappointed in the administration's outlook. It's very narrow-minded,' he said. 'This is about lives being saved.'

A native of Oregon, Lokey was editor of the Stanford Daily and graduated from Stanford in 1949 with a degree in journalism. He founded Business Wire, the international public relations wire service, in 1961 with $2,000 of his own money. In four months, it was turning a profit. Today, the San Francisco-based company distributes annually hundreds of thousands of news releases, and it bills more than $130 million a year. He sold it to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway in 2006, when the wire service was valued at $500 million. He officially retired from the company this year.

Lokey, 81, has devoted much of his time in recent years to philanthropy, donating much of his money to educational institutions. 'I looked back and said to myself, what is it that has created all this wealth? I realized it's education,' said Lokey, a resident of Atherton, Calif. He is also bullish on biotech, believing that it represents the next revolution in technological innovation. He views stem cells as being at the heart of the biotech field.

'At 81 - I expect to go well past 90 - I might see the benefits (of stem cell research). There's a chance,' he said. 'But the real application will be for the 38-year-old person who survives a heart attack and has heart damage. Stem cells may be able to repair the damage. To me, that's worth the money I put in.'

The building's total estimated cost is $200 million, $43.6 million of which is from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state stem cell agency. The balance will be financed with other private contributions and university resources. It will house scientists and clinicians in 33 laboratories and from multiple disciplines. They will work side by side in the research center, which has an open, innovative design to encourage collaboration.

'Scientists in the fields of stem cell and cancer research are on the brink of discoveries that may soon affect the understanding and treatment of disease,' said Irving Weissman, MD, the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Professor for Clinical Investigation in Cancer Research and the stem cell institute's director. 'With this magnificent gift, Stanford will have the facilities to lead those efforts.'

Weissman said the availability of new space will attract faculty to Stanford and spur collaborations with scientists from around the world. The new center will include 60 laboratory benches for scientists who will visit Stanford for a month or a year at a time.

Lokey said the prospect of bringing top research talent to Stanford is far more meaningful to him than any worldly goods his money could buy. 'I don't want airplanes and boats and country club memberships,' he said. 'I believe that if you fall into a lot of money like I did, you put it into the soil - you replenish the soil for next year's crop.'

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.