Livestrong gives $50 million to UT-Austin med school

(TEXAS TRIBUNE) -- After a period of soul-searching, the Livestrong Foundation announced Tuesday that it is making a major strategic move — giving a $50 million gift to the University of Texas at Austin's new Dell Medical School to create the Livestrong Cancer Institutes.

Originally called the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the cancer-fighting organization changed its name in 2012 following the infamous doping scandal involving its founder and namesake, who was ultimately pushed out as the organization’s chairman.

“We’ve obviously gone through a pretty strategic planning process over the last 18 months,” said Doug Ulman, Livestrong’s president and CEO. “This opportunity clear and away rose to the top in terms of where we could, as an organization, have the biggest long-term impact on our mission. It’s truly one of those opportunities that doesn’t come along very often.”

Clay Johnston, the medical school’s inaugural dean, said he has been looking forward to working with Livestrong since before his hiring was announced.

“Livestrong is about what it has achieved,” Johnston said. “In spite of a little turmoil in there — and they survived that beautifully — it is easy to say that this is going to be a fabulous partner.”

Livestrong’s commitment of $50 million over 10 years is among the largest gifts the school has received. It is identical in size to a gift from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, one that came with naming rights. UT-Austin President Bill Powers called the Livestrong gift “a tremendous shot in the arm for the Dell Medical School.”

The medical school plans to open its doors to its first students in 2016.

The Livestrong Foundation’s gift also helps UT-Austin reach another major milestone. It puts the university’s eight-year capital campaign beyond it $3 billion goal, which Powers called “very exciting.”

“I’m very gratified that, even in economically tough times, we’ve been able to successfully complete this campaign,” Powers said.

The money will not be put toward any new buildings, Johnston said. Instead, it will fund a collaboration between the medical school and the foundation that will emphasize patient-centered cancer care, he said, which should “improve the quality of care for the full person, not just treating them like somebody with a tumor.”

Johnston said the work of the institutes would directly respond to the charge of Austin voters who approved a tax increase in 2012 to support of a new medical school that will provide innovative models of care for the underserved.

“In Austin, the care that’s provided to people with cancer who don’t have insurance is not appropriate,” Johnston said. “Austin does the best it can, but in an antiquated system.”

Both Johnston and Ulman said they hoped the patient-centric models developed at the institutes would ultimately have national implications. The money provided by Livestrong will also go toward work on cancer prevention strategies and other research.

While the commitment has been made, the exact structure of the Livestrong Cancer Institutes has yet to take shape.

“We know where we want to get, but we don’t know exactly how to get there,” Johnston said. “We know we both bring great strengths to the table.”

Ulman said that following the public announcement of the partnership on Tuesday, his team is “excited to sit down to sketch this out and see what it will be.”


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