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Hopkins cancer center gets $65 million gift

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Nothing could save Albert P. "Skip" Viragh Jr. from pancreatic cancer, but a $65 million gift from his foundation will help other patients suffering from that and other deadly cancers.

The money will be used to help pay for construction of a patient care building at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, the medical institution announced Tuesday.

The new building will bear the name of Viragh, an innovative Maryland mutual fund investor who died from pancreatic cancer in 2003 at age 62 after receiving treatment at Johns Hopkins. The naming is a fitting tribute to his legacy, said Dr. William G. Nelson, director of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"He was a wonderful character in life," Nelson said. "He was an inspirational character. He had pancreatic cancer and really pursued treatment with vigor. This gift is the kind of thing that we would have expected from him."

The gift is among the largest Johns Hopkins has received. Earlier this year, the Kimmel Cancer Center received its second-largest gift ever, $90 million from the Ludwig Cancer Research Center, which earlier gave $20 million. In 2001, Sidney Kimmel, founder of the Jones Apparel Group and a film producer, gave $150 million.

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Hopkins alumnus and the university's biggest donor, has given a total of $1.1 billion to the system.

Viragh was the founder and former CEO of Rydex Funds, an investment firm he started with $20 million. He grew the Rockville-based company from a three-person operation to one with more than 200 employees that managed more than $9 billion in assets at the time of his death.

He was considered an investment pioneer for his creation of leveraged index funds, and the trade publication Investment News once listed him as one of the 25 most influential people in the industry and one of its best innovators.

Cancer forced Viragh to step down from his duties at Rydex, which is now part of Guggenheim Investments.

In 2010, his foundation donated $20 million to Johns Hopkins to establish the Skip Viragh Center for Pancreas Cancer Clinical Research and Patient Care.

The foundation, run by members of Viragh's family, wanted to help others dealing with cancer of all types, according to Vanessa Wasta, a spokeswoman for the Kimmel Center. Members of the foundation were not available for comment.

The donation is expected to cover most of the construction costs, although fundraising continues for the building, scheduled for completion in 2017, Nelson said.

The cancer center needs more space as outpatient cancer care is expected to increase 35 percent to 40 percent nationwide in the next 10 to 15 years. Johns Hopkins serves more than 10,000 new cancer patients each year across five sites in Maryland, Nelson said.

The center will serve as a one-stop location of medical care for cancer patients, Nelson said. It will provide a wide range of medical services, including coordinated surgical, medical, radiation, and other consultations and services

"We are going to slowly but surely change the way we take care of patients," Nelson said. "We are going to build everything around the patient, instead of referring someplace else for treatment. They will be able to show up at one place and have everything done."

The new building will free up space in the Cancer Center's Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building for the expansion of outpatient services, inpatient cancer treatment and 24-hour oncology urgent care.

The new building will be located at North Broadway and East Fayette Street on one of the highest points in East Baltimore, with views of downtown and the Inner Harbor. It is being designed by architects Ayers Saint Gross and Wilmot Sanz.

The Viragh foundation gift is part of a $4.5 billion capital campaign launched in 2010 to support the university and Johns Hopkins Medicine. It has raised more than $2.44 billion.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ankwalker

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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