tampabay.com

Entrepreneur's $20.4M gift to Moffitt is record

By EMILY NIPPS
Published May 23, 2007


TAMPA - The amount drew gasps from the 300-plus people crowded Tuesday in the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute auditorium.

$20.4-million.

From one person.

"I'm overwhelmed, " said Moffitt chairman and former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, who paused to hold back tears during the announcement.

The donation is the largest single gift in Moffitt's 21-year history and will go toward research and treatment of melanoma, the fastest-growing cancer in the United States and an especially significant threat to Floridians.

The benefactor is relatively unknown in the Tampa Bay area, though that may change once the Donald A. Adam Comprehensive Melanoma Research Center is established at Moffitt.

Adam, a 72-year-old Texas cable, banking and construction entrepreneur, has owned a large thoroughbred horse farm in Ocala for 13 years and opened his first two branches of the Florida-based American Momentum Bank in Tampa in October. He has made ties with some of the area's movers and shakers, recently adding University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft and former U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler to his bank's board of directors.

Adam's Moffitt connection came around the same time he added Mack to his board a few months ago. But a scare when he was in his 50s also spurred his generosity.

"I had a problem with melanoma 15 to 20 years ago that fortunately was detected early, " Adam said. "When you interact with as many people as I do, it's remarkable how many people have been affected by melanoma."

One of those people was Mack, whose younger brother died of melanoma at age 35. Mack knew Adam through a mutual friend and met him early this year to ask for $5-million to help fund the melanoma research center. Adam eventually agreed to $20.4-million, which will almost entirely fund the first five years of research and development of the center.

"Believe me, the senator does not mind asking the question, " Adam said.

Moffitt, which sees more than 1, 500 new melanoma patients every year and is one of the nation's top three cancer centers by volume, will create the melanoma research center within its existing buildings.

Within five years, Moffitt plans to recruit top melanoma researchers from around the nation and conduct clinical trials on new drugs. It also will pursue what Moffitt calls the Melanoma Genomics Project, which studies genetic factors of melanoma patient samples and maps the disease on a molecular level. Moffitt researchers think this project can dramatically improve patient diagnoses and help doctors understand how to treat various types of melanoma.

"With this gift, I would hope that Moffitt will be recognized as the number one melanoma research center in the world in a very rapid period of time, " said Dr. Jeff Weber, director of the center.

Moffitt's previous largest single donation was $15-million, which went toward drug and screening research and researcher recruitment. The gift came from Naples industrialist Vincent Stabile in 2002.

In 2004, Don and Erika Wallace donated $5-million to Moffitt's Comprehensive Breast Cancer Program.

Emily Nipps can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or nipps@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

Melanoma

Melanoma is the fastest-growing cancer in the United States and worldwide, and is the most common cancer in young adults ages 20 to 30.

Melanoma constitutes only 5 percent of all skin cancers among some of the less serious types, such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. However, melanoma causes 71 percent of all skin cancer deaths.

Florida has one of the nation's highest rates of malignant melanoma and skin cancer because of its southern location and high levels of ultra-violet radiation. The high rate is partly due to its large population of older people with a lifetime of sun exposure.

This year, about 3, 000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in Florida. That is 7 percent of the incidence rate for the entire country.

Melanoma usually begins in a mole. Warning signs to look for in a mole are: asymmetrical shape; an irregular border; non-uniform or odd color; diameter greater than a pencil eraser; irregular elevations; burning, bleeding or itching.

Sources: H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center; the Skin Cancer Foundation; the Melanoma Research Foundation.