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Stephensons make historic $12 million gift to Oklahoma’s cancer programs

OU Cancer Center

University of Oklahoma President David L. Boren announced the largest one-time gift in the history of the OU Health Sciences Center, a historic $12 million donation from Peggy and Charles Stephenson of Tulsa, to benefit cancer programs for all Oklahomans.

Their gift will provide $5.5 million to complete construction of the seven-story cancer facility located at the OU Health Sciences Center, $6 million to fund two endowed positions and $500,000 to endow a Healing Garden, the location of today’s announcement.

In recognition of the Stephensons’ commitment and to underline OU’s mission of serving the entire state, Boren said he will recommend to OU Regents that the center be named as the Peggy and Charles Stephenson Oklahoma Cancer Center and that the Healing Garden also carry Mrs. Stephenson’s name.

“The generosity of Peggy and Charles Stephenson will make it possible for Oklahomans to receive world-class cancer treatment while remaining in their home state close to supportive family members and friends,” Boren said.  “It will bring new research discoveries quickly to the aid of patients,” he said.

Mr. and Mrs. Stephenson’s gift will help the state achieve the goal of bringing world-class research and cancer care to all the people of Oklahoma – a state that has one of the highest cancer incidence and mortality rates in the nation. 

The Center, scheduled to be completed in 2011, is the largest public-private biosciences initiative in Oklahoma history, representing an unprecedented commitment to improving how cancer affects Oklahomans through treatment, clinical research, support programs and education.

In 2001, the Oklahoma Legislature charged OU with providing statewide leadership in cancer research, prevention and education, and treatment and to seek designation as a National Cancer Institute (NCI) comprehensive cancer center, signifying the highest level of cancer research and care in the nation.  In addition to the Peggy and Charles Stephenson Oklahoma Cancer Center facility in Oklahoma City, there is a new branch of the cancer center on the OU-Tulsa Schusterman Center campus.  The two story-addition houses exam, consultation and treatment rooms dedicated to cancer patients.  

The State of Oklahoma is providing approximately $90 million in funding for the new facility, primarily from tobacco tax revenues, and the University Hospitals Authority and Trust is providing approximately $25 million.

In support of the Center, OU launched a private fund-raising campaign in 2006 that, with the commitment from Mr. and Mrs. Stephenson, now totals $50 million. Much of the private funding has been designated for endowed faculty chairs, which will allow OU to recruit and retain outstanding faculty researchers to the academic cancer center. 

Half of the Stephensons' gift will create two endowed “super chairs” to attract top new NCI-funded researchers, the single-most important factor in garnering the National Cancer Institute comprehensive cancer center designation. 

Because basic laboratory research plays a significant role in the fight against cancer, the $3 million Stephenson Endowed Chair in Cancer Laboratory Research will be used to attract a world-class, senior-level cancer researcher to focus on the origin and development of cancer cells at the genetic, proteomic and molecular levels.  The second  $3 million Stephenson endowed chair will be used to recruit or retain research scientists who look at translating discoveries in the laboratory into drug design and development, providing a bridge between lab research and patient treatment. 

This endowed chair also could be used to recruit a researcher involved in clinical trials. Clinical trials research focuses on determining the safety and efficacy of new treatment techniques and cancer drugs that come from laboratory and translational research.  Through clinical trials, cancer patients gain first access to promising new drugs and treatment regimens.  For late-stage cancer patients who have not responded to standard therapies, clinical trials sometimes offer the last hope for increasing their chances to survive cancer.  Regardless of type or stage of cancer, being a part of a clinical trial allows a cancer patient to actively participate in finding a cure for his or her cancer. 

The Oklahoma Cancer Center will give Oklahomans ready access to clinical trials without having to travel out of state to other major academic cancer centers.  It is the only cancer center in the state with the infrastructure to support multiple cancer clinical trials.  Currently, more than 2,700 patients are enrolled in more than 250 different clinical trials at the Oklahoma Cancer Center.  The goal is to double these numbers over the next five years. 

Additionally, $5.5 million of the Stephensons' gift will be used to complete two “future needs” floors in the Cancer Center building, which will double the space for patient clinical services and expand programs for cancer outreach, prevention and education.  The fourth floor will accommodate six new patient clinics, and the fifth floor will be the site for conferences, support group meetings, and programs to help patients throughout the state. 

The Cancer Center initially was designed as a five-floor, 150,000-square-foot facility.  In 2006, just before start of construction, President Boren and OU Health Sciences Center leaders committed to building two additional “shell floors” of about 30,000 square feet each that would result in a seven-story, 210,000-square-foot facility and allow for future expansion.  The growing number of patients and programs has resulted in a need to complete the building now rather than sometime in the future.

Incorporating a design that promotes multidisciplinary and patient-centered care, the $128 million building will provide Oklahomans with a world-class diagnostic and treatment facility with the latest technology available in an environment of research and education. 

Charles Stephenson is a 1959 OU petroleum engineering graduate, retired as chairman of the board, president and CEO of Vintage Petroleum Inc., which was sold in 2006 to Occidental.  Peggy Stephenson is executive director of the Stephenson Family Foundation, which supports many community programs.  In philanthropy, parenting and life, they are longtime partners, having grown up in the southeastern Oklahoma community of Antlers.  Both are recipients of honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from OU. 

Mr. and Mrs. Stephenson, whose gifts have helped fuel OU’s rapidly growing Research Campus in Norman, have long been interested in supporting OU’s research endeavors and the economic benefits to the state of Oklahoma that can result from those initiatives. 

Their $6 million gift to OU in 2002 helped build the Stephenson Research and Technology Center, which was completed in 2004 and transformed an empty field into the OU’s burgeoning Research Campus.  In 2006, they made another $18 million gift to help OU build a second major research building.  The Stephenson Life Sciences Research Center, completed in 2010 immediately north of the SRTC, houses the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as well as visiting researchers from other universities and companies. 

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