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Over 40 years
of rich history

SBP History

Since its founding on July 7, 1976, as the La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation, the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) has been an independent research institute where scientists lead the way in developing revolutionary medical discoveries and therapies. 

The inspiration came from William Fishman, Ph.D. and his wife and career partner, Lillian. Dr. Fishman left his post as professor, director and founder of the Tufts Cancer Research Center in Boston. Rather than retire, Dr. Fishman wanted to advance his studies in onco-developmental biology, exploiting proteins involved in embryonic development as tumor markers.

With a $180,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Fishmans moved west to San Diego, hired five employees, leased space in a vacant building, and constructed laboratory equipment out of spare parts. It was a modest beginning for what was destined to become an NCI-designated basic research cancer center, a world-class medical research institute, and a world-class medical research institute with an accredited graduate school.

While SBP’s roots are in cancer research, our focus has expanded over the years to include neuroscience, immunology, metabolic disorders, stem cell research, drug discovery technologies and rare childhood diseases.

Philanthropy has played a major role in our growth and expansion. Donations from the Whittaker Corporation and the California Foundation enabled us to acquire a five-acre site on the La Jolla mesa. Generous donations from philanthropists and the Institute’s namesakes—T. Denny Sanford, Malin and Roberta Burnham and Conrad Prebys—have helped to ensure SBP’s path forward.

SBP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit research organization.