Lawmakers to weigh OHSU's $200 million bond request

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SALEM, Ore. — Executives at Oregon Health & Science University are asking state lawmakers to take on $200 million in debt to help secure a massive donation from Nike founder Phil Knight and his wife.

The Knights committed to giving OHSU $500 million for cancer research if the university can raise an equal amount within two years, bringing in a total investment of $1 billion. OHSU wants to use the money to lure high-profile scientists to conduct groundbreaking research into early detection of cancer.

"Oregon will be known as the state where premier cancer research is done," said Dr. Joe Robertson, president of OHSU. "We're known for the best pinot, and we'll be known for the best cancer research."

Robertson said the money would be sufficient to move 20 researchers and their labs to OHSU's Knight Cancer Institute, which was named for the Nike founder and his wife following a $100 million gift in 2008. An influx of cash that large would free researchers from many of the onerous grant applications they spend time writing. Most of the money would be spent over about a decade, he said, but about $250 million would go into an endowment.

Dr. Brian Druker, director of the OHSU cancer center, developed the cancer drug Gleevec, which significantly improved cancer treatment by specifically targeting cancer cells.

"Brian Druker's vision is to apply the same technology of targeted therapy to early detection," Robertson said. "It's the same technology that's been phenomenally successful with treatment of cancer. Many cancers are detected so late that they can't be treated."

OHSU has until Feb. 4, 2016, to raise the $500 million needed to secure the donation. The taxpayer money would count toward that threshold, but Robertson said he's committed to raising the full amount from private sources for a total investment of $1.2 billion.