Mike's direct involvement in medical research began in earnest in 1972 when his mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer. That commitment accelerated during his father's battle with melanoma in the mid-1970s. In 1982, Mike formalized his philanthropy by co-founding the Milken Family Foundation, which would be endowed with hundreds of millions of dollars. Over three decades, the Foundation has worked closely with more than 1,000 organizations around the world, supporting medical research and education programs.
Programs and contributions by the Milken Family Foundation have made a difference in the battle against several grave diseases, including breast cancer and epilepsy. Earlier in his career, Mike endowed a chair at the Harvard Medical School Dana Farber Cancer Center, was the primary benefactor of the Venice (Calif.) Family Clinic (which serves tens of thousands of people), and gave his time and resources to a wide range of medical causes. The Foundation has provided grants to keep many young cancer researchers in their labs when they were tempted to pursue more-lucrative clinical practices. Mike has said, "Of all the programs we've supported over the last generation, the biggest payoff in terms of social benefit has come from the awards to young investigators." Among those who received awards in the 1980s were:
In 1993, Mike established the Prostate Cancer Foundation. See A Call to Action for details. In 1995, he hosted the first Cancer Summit, an event that led to a 1998 March on Washington in support of increased funding of biomedical research. Over the five years following The March, Congress increased the resources of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from $14 billion per year to $27 billion. To date, that incremental increase represents approximately $200 billion in additional public funding above the 1998 baseline. The yield on that investment is accelerated scientific discovery that has saved, enhanced and extended millions of lives around the world. When funding increases slowed in 2003, Milken formed FasterCures, which works to remove bureaucratic and regulatory barriers to progress against all life threatening diseases.
In 2007, the Melanoma Research Alliance was launched to support innovative translational studies that advance the diagnosis, staging and treatment of melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer. And in 2011, Mike's efforts helped create bi-partisan support for the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciiences (NCATS), which was established in the NIH. At the same time, FasterCures supported passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, which Congress overwhelmingly passed in 2016.
The 2011 Lake Tahoe Retreat on Bioscience Innovation, which Mike led, assembled what one CEO participant called "the board of directors of American health innovation."
Because federal budget pressures threaten continued life-saving investments, Mike has called for a renewed national commitment to biomedical research. In September 2012, FasterCures hosted A Celebration of Science in Washington to honor scientific achievement and draw attention to its profound human, social and economic benefits. Senior members of Congress, from both parties, joined more than 1,000 leaders in medical and scientific research, patient advocacy, industry, philanthropy and public policy. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed article on the first day of the event, Mike cited the importance of fostering basic science.
In 2014, Mike and the Instiute hosted the Public Health Conference at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta. A broad cross-section of national leaders from the public and private sectors joined in addressing such public health issues as prevention of chronic and infectious diseases, workplace safety, nutrition and healthier lifestyles.
Soon after the conference, The George Washington University (GW) announced three gifts totaling $80 million to address many of the world's public health challenges, focusing on prevention of disease and promotion of wellness. The contributions came from the Milken Institute, the Sumner M. Redstone Charitable Foundation and the Milken Family Foundation. In honor of these gifts, the GW board of trustees announced the naming of the Milken Institute School of Public Health and the establishment of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness. Mike joined Mr. Redstone for an interview about the transformative gifts.
The Milken Institute's Center for Public Health hosts an annual Future of Health Summit in Washington, deans of schools of public health, philanthropists, global health leaders, corporate CEOs, international diplomats, members of Congress and the Administration, disease-specific organizations, health providers and insurers. The goals? To increase bi-partisan collaboration among public health institutions; raise public awareness; demonstrate the social and economic benefits of public health; and reaffirm a global commitment to protecting and preserving health.
The Milken Institute School of Public Health, part of George Washington University in Washington, DC, began working closely with the Institute’s other centers to confront the coronavirus crisis as soon as the COVID-19 disease began spreading in early 2020. The school’s earlier work with SARS, Zika, Ebola and other infectious disease outbreaks gave it a deep resource of expertise to assist government agencies, clinical centers and biopharmaceutical companies as they developed and implemented anti-COVID strategies. Concurrently, Mike began interviewing leading disease experts and corporate executives for a daily podcast, Responding to COVID-19: Conversations with Mike Milken.