Philanthropists Phil and Penny Knight Friday pledged $500 million to kick-start a $1 billion cancer research initiative at the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University. Phil Knight, Nike co-founder and chairman, said the pledge is contingent on OHSU's success in raising at least $500 million more for cancer within two years.

OHSU has been in ongoing conversations with the Knights about the possibility of additional investment in the Knight Cancer Institute, which the couple supported with a $100 million gift in 2008 — but Friday's announcement was a thrilling surprise.

OHSU President Joe Robertson, M.D., M.B.A., said the university eagerly accepts this historic challenge. "This is a transformative moment," he said, "not just for OHSU and for Oregon, but for the people who matter most — this is about changing the lives of cancer patients around the world."

The Knights' challenge wowed an audience of 400 of OHSU's top supporters at a Knight Cancer Institute gala, for which Phil and Penny served as honorary chairs. In his introduction of Knight Cancer Institute Director Brian Druker, M.D., Knight said that "it is incumbent on every one of us to do what he or she can to keep the miracles coming."

Druker is world-renowned for his leadership in the development of the first molecularly targeted anti-cancer drug, Gleevec, which began today's revolution in personalized cancer medicine. His achievements earned him the prestigious Lasker Award.

Druker said the Knights' extraordinary pledge will be the catalyst to address the next major challenges in cancer research.

The Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University is a pioneer in the field of personalized cancer medicine. The institute's director, Brian Druker, M.D., helped prove it was possible to shut down cells that enable cancer to grow without harming healthy cells. This breakthrough has made once-fatal forms of the disease manageable and ushered in a new generation of targeted cancer therapies. The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center between Sacramento and Seattle – an honor earned only by the nation's top cancer centers. It offers the latest treatments and technologies as well as hundreds of research studies and clinical trials.