Prostate Cancer Foundation proposes research partnership with Phila. colleges

Mike Milken, founder of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, greets people after a panel discussion during the organization's 10th annual fund-raiser.
Mike Milken, founder of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, greets people after a panel discussion during the organization's 10th annual fund-raiser. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 04, 2012

Prostate cancer is especially tough on African Americans. They are about 50 percent more likely than white men to get the disease and twice as likely to die of it.

The Prostate Cancer Foundation wants to help research institutions in Philadelphia take the lead in figuring out why, the foundation's founder and co-chair, Michael Milken, said Tuesday evening during the group's 10th annual fund-raiser in Philadelphia. Milken said he wonders, "What can we learn from this that would not only help them but will help all men on the planet?"

He envisions a cooperative effort among researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel, Temple, Thomas Jefferson universities. All were represented on a panel that discussed local research efforts and the need for philanthropy to free scientists to spend more time studying cancer and less time looking for grants.

Milken, who helped moderate two panel discussions, wouldn't say how much money might be involved. "People always think it's money, but it's really sometimes coordination and it's getting individuals to cooperate," he said.

The event, which included a talk about entrepreneurship with Milken and local business leaders, culminated in an auction and dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel. It raised $820,000 last year. Organizers hope for $1 million this year. Lewis Katz, a managing partner of the company that owns the Inquirer, was among the speakers on the entrepreneurship panel.

Milken co-chaired the Philadelphia event along with Neal Rodin of International Financial Co., LLC and Clay Hamlin of LBCW Investments. Milken, a Wall Street financier, was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in 1993 just after he was released from prison for securities violations. He is now chairman of the Milken Institute, an economics think tank based in Santa Monica, Ca.

Tuesday's event drew about 400 people, including area business and political leaders. Former Gov. Ed Rendell was scheduled to serve as a guest auctioneer.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that 241,740 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year and that 28,170 men will die of the disease.

Currently, the biggest controversy in prostate cancer revolves around whether to be screened for the disease, which often grows so slowly that men who have it die of something else before the cancer becomes a serious threat. Determining which men have more aggressive forms has been a major challenge.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in May recommended against PSA - prostate specific antigen - screening saying it may prevent death for only one man in a thousand while exposing many more to the risk of life-altering side effects such as incontinence and impotence from treatment. The American Urological Association responded that it was "outraged" by the recommendation and that men expected to live 10 to 15 more years should have the choice of being tested. "I am biased on this subject," Milken told the crowd, "since I would not be with you today except for my PSA test 20 years ago."

Several researchers talked about their growing frustration with obtaining federal funding. Trevor Penning, a Penn researcher, said the lack of support is especially discouraging for young people. "We are actually losing a whole generation of young scientists because they see us senior scientists struggle to get our money," he said.

Contact staff writer Stacey Burling at 215-854-4944 or

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