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USC Norris gala honors Dana and David Dornsife, raises $2 million for research and clinical trials

The philanthropists have long supported the university and its health enterprises

David and Dana Dornsife with Niki C. Nikias and C. L. Max Nikias
David and Dana Dornsife, left, pose with Niki C. Nikias and USC President C. L. Max Nikias. (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)

The USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of the original comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute in 1972, raised more than $2 million at its 2015 star-studded black-tie gala fundraiser Oct. 10 at the Beverly Wilshire hotel in Beverly Hills.

The event honored philanthropists Dana and David Dornsife, recipients of the Visionary Award, and physician-scientist Parkash Gill, recognized with the Research Innovation Award for his ground-breaking cancer work as one of USC’s elite team of scientific researchers.

Funds raised support the innovative cancer research at the 43-year-old USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, which holds about 250 clinical cancer trials each year.

The honorary event hosts included USC President C. L. Max Nikias, Dean Carmen A. Puliafito of the Keck School of Medicine of USC and Stephen Gruber, director of USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. Raymond and Shauna Mirra of RAM Capital were the evening’s presenting sponsor and honorary chairs.

David Spade, C. L. Max Nikias and Dana Carvey

USC President C. L. Max Nikias shares a laugh with actors David Spade, left, and Dana Carvey, right. (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)

Puliafito welcomed the more than 400 guests before introducing the evening’s emcee, Emmy Award-winning actor, comedian and Saturday Night Live alum Dana Carvey. Gruber then took the stage to thank the evening’s supporters, that included the Mirras as well as Tom and Holly Gores of Platinum Equity, the platinum sponsor for the event.

Recognizing philanthropy

A highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Norris Visionary Award to Dana and David Dornsife. The Dornsifes, recognized as international philanthropic leaders, were honored for their advocacy and funding for cancer research and their help with patient treatment, especially cancer patients for whom a clinical trial is the best treatment option.

Dana Dornsife is president and founder of Lazarex Cancer Foundation, whose mission is to help late-stage cancer patients navigate their clinical trial options and to provide financial support. She founded the organization after losing a brother at age 48 to pancreatic cancer. The foundation is dedicated to bringing scientific and medical institutions together with government to fund research and find faster cures and treatments for cancer. David Dornsife serves as vice president of the Hedco Foundation, whose mission is health and education improvement.

Both David and Dana Dornsife are alumni of USC. Their longtime transformative support of the mission of USC includes being named donors of the USC David and Dana Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. David Dornsife, chairman of the Herrick Corp., is a USC trustee and chairman of the board for the USC Brain and Creativity Institute; Dana Dornsife is a board member of the institute.

“Our honorees, David and Dana Dornsife, are not only accomplished figures in their respective professional fields, but each is personally dedicated to supporting the efforts to conquer cancer and provide compassionate care to patients,” Gruber said. “We are honored to celebrate the Dornsifes for their continued generosity to USC and to their commitment to our mission.”

Pierce Brosnan

Actor Pierce Brosnan speaks during the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center gala Oct. 10. (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)

Standout science

Raymond Mirra joined Gruber on stage to present the Research Innovation Award to Gill, professor of medicine and pathology at the Keck School. Gill’s laboratory at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center has an active translational program to develop cancer therapeutics based on basic or classic bench research.

“Dr. Gill’s extraordinary research is supporting our mission to make cancer a disease of the past,” Gruber said. “It is the dedication of Dr. Gill and our entire university-based research team that continue to make USC Norris recognized as one of the top cancer research centers in the nation.”

Carvey’s comedic monologue led into the introduction of special guest Pierce Brosnan. The actor, who played James Bond among other memorable roles, was on hand to introduce multi-Grammy Award winner Don Henley. Currently touring for his new album, Cass County, the founding member of the Eagles and passionate environmental activitist brought the crowd to its feet with performances of classic favorites “Dirty Laundry,” “Desperado” and “Hotel California.”

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USC Norris gala honors Dana and David Dornsife, raises $2 million for research and clinical trials

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