Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute

Coordinates: 32°54′04″N 117°14′31″W / 32.901192°N 117.241937°W / 32.901192; -117.241937

Sanford Burnham Prebys is a 501(c)(3) non-profit medical research institute focusing on basic and translational research, with major research programs in cancer, neurodegeneration, diabetes, and infectious, inflammatory, and childhood diseases. The Institute also specializes in stem cell research and drug discovery technologies.

Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute
The official logo of Sanford Burnham Prebys
PresidentKristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D.
Budget$109 million (FY2021)
Address10901 North Torrey Pines Road

The Institute employs more than 500 scientists and staff at its campus in La Jolla, California. It is recognized for its NCI-designated Cancer Center, its drug discovery center (Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics) and the Sanford Children’s Health Research Center and its strategic partnerships with the biotech and pharmaceutical industry.

Sanford Burnham Prebys operates an NCI-designated Cancer Center (one of seven basic research centers in the U.S.) and is ranked in the top 2% of research institutions worldwide by the number of citations. It is also #6 in the nation for the Nature Index of nonprofit/non-government institutions in biomedical science.

Since its inception in 1976, the institution has grown from a small building in West San Diego to a campus in La Jolla including an accredited graduate school with more than 350 postdocs, graduate students and interns mentored per year. Current Institute educational programs serve trainees with professional development programs, postdoctoral scientific training and graduate programs in Biomedical Sciences. The Sanford Burnham Prebys educational system partners with the Sanford Burnham Prebys Science Network, the Office of Education, Training & International Services to cover an array of scientific career and professional development topics.[1]


Former Burnham Institute for Medical Research logo

William H. Fishman, M.D., Ph.D., and his wife, Lillian Waterman Fishman, founded the La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation in 1976 after retiring from Tufts University School of Medicine. The Foundation focused on oncodevelopment, the study of developmental biology in conjunction with oncology.

In 1996, the Foundation was renamed The Burnham Institute in honor of San Diego businessman Malin Burnham after he joined with an anonymous donor to contribute $10 million; in 2006, it was renamed the Burnham Institute for Medical Research. In 2007, T. Denny Sanford gave the Institute $20 million through Sanford Health, a hospital which had received significant donations from T. Denny Sanford previously, allowing it to create the Sanford Children's Health Research Center, which has sites in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and La Jolla, California, the latter within the campus of the Institute.

In 2008, Sanford Burnham Prebys was awarded a $97.9 million grant by NIH to establish a high-throughput screening center.[2]

In 2010, the Institute adopted the name Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute following a $50 million pledge of support from Sanford.[3]

An anonymous gift of $275 million was made in 2014, which was later cut to $200 million.[4]

In 2015, the Institute changed its name again to Sanford Burnham Prebys following a $100 million gift from philanthropist Conrad Prebys.[5]


Sanford Burnham Prebys was founded with its primary focus on cancer research. The Institute ranks consistently among the world's top 25 organizations for its research impact, according to Thomson Scientific data. It also ranks among the top 3% of research institutes in the United States in National Institutes of Health grant funding.

Research staff in Sanford Burnham Prebys’ laboratories numbers over 520 including postdoctoral researchers; an additional 30 graduate students and 164 administrative and support personnel to bring the total number of employees to over 700.

The institute is home to four research centers:

Sanford Burnham Prebys has seven research programs including:

Stem Cell ResearchEdit

Sanford Burnham Prebys is one of five institutes that have joined together to carry out stem cell research in a partnership named for donor T. Denny Sanford. The Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine opened a $126 million research facility in 2011 and is a joint venture of Sanford Burnham Prebys, the Salk Institute, Scripps Research, UC San Diego, and the La Jolla Institute for Immunology.

Cell and Molecular Biology of CancerEdit

Insights into the complex system of networks and mechanisms that tumors use to survive and proliferate. Findings build dialogue with clinicians and physician scientists across the country and in neighboring institutions to ensure the translational and human relevance of the research.

Degenerative DiseasesEdit

Understanding how cells discriminate between functional and nonfunctional proteins. Discoveries about the damaging impact of oxidative stress on protein structure and function in the neurodegenerative diseases of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, metabolic diseases of diabetes and liver failure, and inflammatory disease and cancer. Findings are translated into new therapies that improve protein folding and preserve cell function in diseases that have global health impact.

Development, Aging and RegenerationEdit

Using model organisms—mice, fish, flies, worms and human stem cells to (1) unravel gene functions linked to mutations and epigenetic factors; (2) explore the development and regenerative capacity of the brain, heart, muscles, pancreas, limbs, liver and other organs; and (3) probe the biology of aging and organ/tissue maintenance to maintain a well-functioning organism. Insights provide the tools needed to uncover novel therapeutic targets for heart disease, neurodegeneration, muscle disorders, diabetes, cancer and other debilitating diseases.

Human GeneticsEdit

Research of new genetic disorders and improving understanding of those with previous knowledge. Using zebrafish, mouse models, patient cells and stem cell technologies, probe the pathological mechanisms of genetic disorders to address unanswered questions. This research has led to diagnostic tests and novel therapies for patients.

Immunity and Pathogenesis ProgramEdit

Research to understand the regulation and interplay of host immune responses and microbial pathogenesis; also studying viral-host interactions, innate and humoral immunity, inflammation and T cell checkpoint regulation. This research provides therapeutic opportunities to address medical needs, including the treatment of endemic and pandemic infectious diseases, autoimmune disorders, cancer and inflammatory diseases.

Tumor Initiation and Maintenance ProgramEdit

Focus on RNA biology and the signaling pathways that regulate cell growth and cell fate; what drives cancer cell growth, to lead to treatments for brain, breast and prostate cancers, as well as melanoma and leukemia.

Tumor Microenvironment and Cancer Immunology ProgramEdit

Studies the interplay between cancer cells, the microenvironment and immune cells regulates the growth and metastasis of solid and hematologic malignancies. Focus on the microbiome, cell migration/invasion, cell signaling, angiogenesis and immunology.

Educational ProgramsEdit

In addition to its research mission, SBP has a broad educational mission. Established in 2005, SBP's Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences offers a Ph.D. degree in Biomedical Sciences. In 2015, Sanford Burnham Prebys achieved accreditation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Sanford Burnham Prebys also employs postdoctoral fellows; there are typically around 125 postdocs training at the Institute at any time.

The graduate school is focused in biomedical research and is supplemented by the technologies developed to facilitate breakthroughs in medical practice. The program offers a foundation in biomedical science with project opportunities in biology, chemistry, bioinformatics and engineering, with focus on one of the main foundations of biomedical science within a laboratory specializing in the area.

It is a small program with eight openings per year and a steady state of thirty students. Entering graduate students are admitted to their thesis labs on day one and do not perform laboratory rotations. The graduate school has a short time to degree, averaging 4.7 years. In. the first two years, students complete five core courses, six tutorials and one elective. Instruction is accompanied by extensive practical laboratory training under the supervision of faculty.


In January 2020, SPB reported $117M in annual revenue.  

The sources of funding in 2019 were: 58% federal; 22% private philanthropy; 8% biopharma partnerships; 8% licensing & other and 4% other grants.

Philanthropy has played a major role in the growth and expansion of the institution. Donations from the Whittaker Corporation and the California Foundation enabled the acquisition a five-acre site on the La Jolla mesa. Donations from philanthropists and the Institute’s namesakes—T. Denny Sanford, Malin and Roberta Burnham and Conrad Prebys—have helped to ensure the Institute’s continued growth.

Select scientific achievementsEdit

  • 1971: Eva Engvall, one of the scientists who invented ELISA in 1971, worked at Sanford Burnham Prebys. She continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor.
  • 1984: Erkki Ruoslahti discovered cell adhesion regulator RGD
  • 1988: Erkki Ruoslahti took art in the collaborative discovery of the role TGF beta plays in tissue scarring.
  • 1992: John C. Reed observed that the activity of common anti-cancer drugs requires “cell suicide” of the cancer cells (apoptosis) and subsequently discovered novel proteins important in apoptosis
  • 1997: Erkki Ruoshlahti discovered peptides that home to specific organs. These peptides were later used as targeting elements to deliver nanoparticles into tumors and other sites of disease
  • 2001: Robert Liddington solved the 3-dimensional structure of the anthrax toxin, leading to the creation of the world’s most potent chemical inhibitor of anthrax
  • 2009: Robert Liddington solved the crystal structure of the influenza hemagglutinin (H5) in complex with a broad spectrum neutralizing antibody
  • 2019: Stemson Therapeutics, a company housed within Sanford Burnham Prebys, successfully replicated regenerative hair follicles using stem cells, essentially curing baldness and hair loss. Human trials have yet to commence.

Collaboration and partnershipsEdit

A robotic arm used in high-throughput screening in operation at the La Jolla campus

Sanford Burnham Prebys has working relationships with the University of California, San Diego, The Scripps Research Institute, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and the Mayo Clinic.

Sanford Burnham Prebys also collaborates with pharmaceutical companies to move research breakthroughs from the lab out to the public. Recent agreements include partners such as Lilly, Daiichi-Sankyo, and Boehringer Ingelheim.


  1. ^ kinalwa, tom (December 2016). "LAS VEGAS SANDS CORP., a Nevada corporation, Plaintiff, v. UKNOWN REGISTRANTS OF,,,,,,,,,,,,,, and, Defendants". Gaming Law Review and Economics. 20 (10): 859–868. doi:10.1089/glre.2016.201011. ISSN 1097-5349.
  2. ^ "Burnham Awarded $97.9 Million NIH Grant to Expand Small-Molecule Screening and Discovery Center". 2 September 2008.
  3. ^ Burnham Institute Gets $50M Gift a and Changes Name, GenomeWeb, January 26, 2010
  4. ^ "Donor cuts $75 million from gift to Sanford Burnham Prebys - The San Diego Union-Tribune". 13 March 2018.
  5. ^ Bell, Diane (June 24, 2015). "Conrad Prebys finds joy in living, giving". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 31 July 2016.

External linksEdit