Providence Honors Early Advocate of Immunotherapy for Lifetime of Generosity and Service

October 03, 2017
In his lifetime and through his estate, the late Robert W. Franz gave close to $40 million to Providence Portland Medical Foundation.

Portland, Oregon—The commitment of one of Portland’s most prominent philanthropists, Robert W. Franz, will live on through his significant estate gift to fund cancer research and treatment at Providence. Franz passed away last year after a lifetime of service to the community, much of it to Providence.

Franz’s estate gift, combined with his history of philanthropy to cancer research, puts his total giving to Providence Portland Medical Foundation at $40 million. This makes him the single largest donor in Providence’s 142 years in Oregon.

In gratitude for his lifelong dedication to cancer research, Providence is renaming the 11-story tower on the Providence Portland Medical Center campus that houses cancer services and research in honor of Franz. The facility will now be known as the Robert W. Franz Cancer Center, part of Providence Cancer Institute.

“We at Providence are so grateful for the tremendous gift that Bob has given us,” said Dave Underriner, chief executive Providence Health & Services, Oregon. “This gift not only serves the Portland community, but also the nation and the entire world as we continue the journey toward eliminating cancer.”

The Franz estate gift will be used to attract top researchers from around the world, build new laboratory and research space, and accelerate progress toward Providence’s overarching goal to end cancer in our lifetimes.

“Bob’s gift is transformative,” said Walter J. Urba, M.D., Ph.D., director, Earle A. Chiles Research Institute, Robert W. Franz Cancer Center. “It allows us to think about the future in ways we never have before.With the support of Providence and people like Bob, our team is well-positioned to show just how potent immunotherapy can be in the treatment of cancer.”

Franz’s relationship with Providence began in 1986 when he joined Providence Portland Medical Foundation as a board member. His intense curiosity, generosity and leadership played a major role in launching cancer research efforts at Providence.

In 1996, Franz and his sister Elsie Franz Finley became true visionaries in the battle to cure cancer when the Robert W. Franz Cancer Research Center in the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute opened with a team of internationally recognized immunotherapy scientists.

Together, they quietly and consistently ensured Providence researchers had the resources to become international leaders in the field of immunotherapy. Their commitment to the work of Dr. Urba and his team has translated into FDA approval of new immunotherapies, providing improved survival rates and hope for many late-stage cancer patients.

In humble gratitude for his unwavering commitment and lifelong dedication to cancer research, Providence Cancer Center in Portland, Oregon has been named the Robert W. Franz Cancer Center.

“Today, Providence is a global leader in cancer immunotherapy thanks to Bob, Elsie and others like them,” said Dr. Urba. “The generosity of the Franz family has been truly life-saving, and will continue to be so for decades to come.”

Dr. Urba leads a team of more than 100 researchers specializing in immunotherapy—a field of study that focuses on harnessing the power of the immune system to cure cancer.

One of the team’s most significant achievements to date is the development of OX40-based immunotherapy and its first-in-human study. That work has resulted in clinical trials to test its effectiveness for the treatment of patients with metastatic colorectal cancer, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma and progressive metastatic breast cancer.

In addition, Providence researchers have contributed significantly to the development of the immunotherapy drugs ipilimumab and nivolumab. And, Dr. Urba led the international study of ipilimumab, which resulted in FDA approval of the treatment for patients with advanced melanoma.

As a key part of its next phase of research and in recognition of the growing field of precision medicine, the Robert W. Franz Cancer Center has developed a genomics program that will integrate genomics with recent advances in immunotherapy. To complement the genomics program, it is building an adoptive cellular therapy program to develop more effective immunotherapy treatments.

“Under Dr. Urba’s leadership and through the support of Bob and Elsie, we will continue our pursuit of advancing state-of-the-art immunotherapy to finish cancer,” said Bernard A. Fox, Ph.D., Harder Family Endowed Chair in Cancer Research.

To learn more, go to, or check on social media with the hashtag #FINISHCANCER.