From real estate to supporting collaborative research
In 1982, real estate developer and philanthropist Malin Burnham joined the board of the La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation, a nonprofit, independent research institute co-founded by Dr. William and Lillian Fishman. At the time, he knew little about scientific research and had no emotional ties to cancer. However, the importance of the Fishmans’ mission—along with the passion and dedication of the Institute’s talented scientists—spoke to him.
“Scientists in those years were basically doing their science in a vacuum because they didn’t want their neighbor to see what they were doing. They thought, ‘They might steal my secrets,’” explains Burnham. “The Fishmans were just the opposite. They were all family. You were part of their team.”
Burnham dove into his work with the Institute, relishing the opportunity—as a layperson—to be involved with an organization that could have such a positive effect on the world. After 14 years of volunteer service, the Burnham Family Foundation made a transformational gift in 1996. The Burnham Institute was born.
Combining fundamental research with medical expertise
T. Denny Sanford
Nearly a decade later, the Institute caught the attention of another philanthropist. South Dakota businessman T. Denny Sanford hoped to advance new medicines for sick children by pairing fundamental research expertise with the medical capabilities of the Sioux Falls–based Sanford Health system. An introduction arranged by Papa Doug Manchester, a San Diego real estate investor and then-Institute Board member, led to a $20 million gift to create the Sanford Children’s Health Research Center—and a subsequent $50 million gift in 2010 to rapidly expand the Institute’s biomedical research efforts. In honor of the donation, the Institute was renamed the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.
"I believe there is more potential for discovery coming out of this organization than any other organization I’ve ever supported,” says Sanford.
Growing the partnership
Shortly after Sanford’s first gift, San Diego developer and philanthropist Conrad Prebys was introduced to the Institute by Burnham. The connection led to Prebys’ $10 million investment to support a world-class drug discovery powerhouse named the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics (Prebys Center). Six years later, Prebys made a transformative donation of $100 million—his largest philanthropic gift ever.
“I lost four close friends to cancer last year—one to a leukemia I didn’t even know existed,” Prebys explained at the time of the Prebys Center’s unveiling. “I have been very blessed in my life, and sometimes I wonder why. The only answer I can come up with is that I’m here to do some good in the world.”
Today, thanks to the generous support of our namesakes and the dedicated work of more than 700 scientists and staff, Sanford Burnham Prebys has produced breakthrough discoveries in cancer, neuroscience, immunology and children’s diseases. More groundbreaking discoveries are sure to come from our passionate and prolific researchers, who publish nearly one peer-reviewed research article per day.
“Being involved with Sanford Burnham Prebys has given me more satisfaction than anything I’ve done in my whole life,” says Burnham.