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40 Years
of rich history

SBP History

Since its founding on July 9, 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 Dr. 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 an $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 an accredited academic institution.

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.
 

↓ Major Milestones ↓

  •  

    1976

    Dr. William and Lillian Fishman established the La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation

  •  

    1979

    Jose Luis Milan, Ph.D., Erkki Ruoslahti, M.D., Ph.D. and Eva Engvall, Ph.D. hired

  •  

    1979

    Moved to Torrey Pines mesa; then Senator Joseph Biden and Dr. Jonas Salk, president of the Salk Institute speakers at the opening celebration

  •  

    1981

    NCI-designated basic science Cancer Research Center established

  •  

    1984

    Patent issued to Dr. Eva Engvall for the ELISA method, now the basis of many critical diagnostic tests

  •  

    1984

    Dr. Erkki Ruoslahti discovered molecular basis for cell adhesion which led to Integrilin™ and Aggrastat™, drug therapies used to treat heart disease

  •  

    1989

    SBP invented enabling technology in Epogen, the first biotech cancer drug, approved for treatment of anemia caused by chemotherapy

  •  

    1989

    Erkki Ruoslahti named president and CEO, and director of the Cancer Center

  •  

    1996

    Renamed the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in honor of philanthropists Roberta and Malin Burnham

  •  

    1999

    Targretin, one of the first vitamin-based cancer drugs, developed from an SBP collaboration, approved to treat certain T-cell lymphomas

  •  

    2001

    John Reed named president and CEO

  •  

    2006

    Kristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D. named president

  •  

    2008

    Jose Luis Milan’s drug therapy Strensig (“asfotase alfa”) approved to treat childhood soft bone disease

  •  

    2009

    Lake Nona, FL campus opened

  •  

    2010

    Renamed the Sanford Burnham Institute for Medical Research in honor of philanthropist T. Denny Sanford

  •  

    2013

    Garth Powis named director of the Cancer Center

  •  

    2015

    Renamed Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Research Institute in honor of philanthropist Conrad Prebys

  •  

    2015

    Perry Niesen, M.D., Ph.D named CEO

  •  

    2015

    SBP Graduate School of Biomedical Science (GSBS) accredited

  •  

    2015

    GSK-SBP Center for Translational Neuroscience opened