Burnham Institute gets $50 million gift; will change name

Few people who have made La Jolla their adopted home have so quickly brought about the lasting community impact of T. Denny Sanford. In less than three years, the South Dakota businessman and philanthropist has invested $100 million in San Diego life-science organizations.

His latest donation is a $50 million pledge to the Burnham Institute for Medical Research. In honor of Sanford’s significant gift, announced Tuesday, the institute was renamed the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. It follows his 2007 donation that established the institute’s Sanford Children’s Health Research Center.

At a news conference attended by Burnham trustees, major donors, and San Diego bioscience industry leaders, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, and San Diego civic leader Malin Burnham praised Sanford for his generosity and expressed admiration for his commitment to understanding medical research.

“He has been known to sit through hours of dense scientific presentations all in an effort to increase his knowledge,” said John Reed, Burnham president and CEO.

Burnham is not the only life science organization in San Diego to receive a gift from Sanford, who made much of his fortune in the banking industry. In 2008, Sanford donated $30 million to the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, now known as the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine. Burnham is a member of the consortium.

The governor emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships, such as the Sanford gift, in advancing medical research and the state’s bioscience enterprise.

“California is home to the world’s finest biotechnology businesses and institutions that are not only producing a healthier tomorrow but also providing hundreds of thousands of jobs and generating tens of billions of dollars in economic impact in our state today,’’ Schwarzenegger said.

Sanford shared the stage with Malin Burnham as the two formally unveiled a placard bearing the institute’s new name. Friends and fellow sailors, Sanford quipped that Burnham is the “best fisherman” in the world. “He slipped $100 million out of my pocket,” he said.

Sanford’s latest gift will be made available in $10 million donations over five years and must be met by equal donations from the community to be fully realized.

“With this gift,” Sanford said. “I have challenged others to join me in supporting this life-changing science.”

With a net worth of about $1 billion, Denny Sanford ranks No. 701 on Forbes’ list

of the richest people in the world. He has been listed on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of top donors and BusinessWeek magazine’s “50 Most Generous Philanthropists.”