Investment Banker Donates $20 Million to Fund Stanford's Stem Cell Research, Therapeutic Efforts

For Release: January 9, 2008
Media Contact: Ruthann Richter
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STANFORD, Calif. - John Scully started his own investment management firm when he was 26. More than 30 years later, he's applied the principles he learned from commercial investing - putting money into promising projects with extraordinary potential - to his private philanthropy.

That is why he and his wife, Regina, have chosen to fund work in stem cells through a $20 million gift to the Stanford University School of Medicine and Stanford Hospital & Clinics.

"We are attracted to the big problems with the best potential for significant improvement in the human experience. For some time we have thought the field of stem cell research and, ultimately, therapies is such an opportunity," said Scully, managing director of SPO Partners & Co. in Mill Valley, Calif. "We should be making this a Manhattan Project-type effort. Stem cell understanding should have a dramatic impact in what many feel will be the century of the biological sciences."

The gift from the San Francisco couple will help build a new facility to house research programs in stem cells and regenerative medicine at the medical school, as well as build space at the new Stanford Hospital, where the results of this research may one day be applied to patients.

"Promoting rapid transfer of breakthrough discoveries into the care of patients is what has distinguished Stanford Hospital through its history," said SHC President and CEO Martha Marsh. "The Scullys' generous gift will assure that this legacy continues in the new Stanford Hospital now being planned. We are truly grateful to Regina and John for their visionary leadership."

Scully, 63, graduated from Stanford School of Business in 1968 and has maintained longstanding ties with the university. He is a member and a vice chair of the university's board of trustees, as well as vice chair of the board of directors for Stanford Hospital. He also has served on the board of directors for Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

Scully grew up in New Jersey and said he became intrigued by investing at an early age. He made his first stock pick in an eighth-grade math club, putting $50 into a Canadian oil company.

"It doubled in six months, and I thought, 'This beats mowing lawns,'" he recalled.

He went on to do his undergraduate work at Princeton University, where he graduated cum laude from the Woodrow Wilson School, and then moved on to the Stanford Graduate School of Business. After receiving his MBA, he worked for a few years on Wall Street and then assembled a group of limited partners, including some former Stanford classmates, to start his first investment firm with $7 million in capital.

"I knew early on I wanted to have my own enterprise," he said. "I admit to being entrepreneurial to the core."

Today, his firm has a portfolio of public companies and private equity investments that include cable television systems, energy, software, construction materials and luxury hotels. SPO is the major investor in a series of partnerships that own eight luxury hotels, including the San Francisco and San Jose Fairmont Hotels and New York's Carlyle Hotel.

The field of stem cells appealed to Scully's entrepreneurial spirit, for he sees these elusive cells as having the potential to solve some of the major scourges of mankind. He said he became particularly intrigued in their roles in cancer after meeting with Irving Weissman, MD, director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. Weissman's recent work has focused on cancer stem cells, which are thought to be the root cause of most tumors.

"It's the errant cancer stem cells that seem to be the bad guys," Scully said. "Intelligent inquiry and research into ways to control and eliminate those cells will be of great clinical significance."

Scully also said he was spurred to invest in stem cells because funding for this research has been severely limited by federal restrictions imposed in 2001 by the Bush administration.

"I don't believe government should restrict scientific inquiry, especially the way it's been done - by cutting off funding," he said. "But that will change. I'm highly confident those federal restrictions will go away. Perhaps gifts like mine will hasten that day by showing the potential for stem cell therapies."

The gift will be devoted in part to construction of a medical school research building known as Stanford Institutes of Medicine 1, which will primarily house laboratories in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. The school hopes to break ground on the project in late 2008.

"The gift from John and Regina Scully is a generous and key contribution to our research programs that will help us understand how the self-renewal process used by stem cells to regenerate tissues for life can sometimes be acquired by cancer and leukemia stem cells," said Weissman, the Virginia & D.K. Ludwig Professor for Clinical Investigation in Cancer Research. "Finding the genes in this process for a variety of cancers will give us tools to develop new therapies and diagnostics here at the medical school and in collaboration with Stanford Hospital. That is why this gift is not only timely, but a wise way to leverage our search for therapies from discoveries - discoveries unique to the Stanford community."

In addition to supporting research, the gift will help in the rebuilding of Stanford Hospital, with the funds specifically designated for space to treat patients using future stem cell therapies. The hospital is planning a major reconstruction project that is now under review by the City of Palo Alto. If approved, the hospital would break ground in 2010, with estimated completion in 2015.

Scully said he expects the new facilities will serve as a model for the nation, which will face a shortage of health-care resources as the population ages.

"In my view, the nation's medical infrastructure is wholly inadequate for what's about to hit it with the maturing baby boomers," he said. "The country will look to leaders like the Stanford School of Medicine and Stanford Hospital & Clinics for leadership and direction in meeting this coming enormous challenge."

Stanford University Medical Center integrates research, medical education and patient care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. For more information, please visit the Web site of the medical center's Office of Communication & Public Affairs.

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