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Promise and Progress - Daniel K. Ludwig

Special Commemorative Issue of Promise & Progress: The Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins

Daniel K. Ludwig

By: Valerie Matthews-Mehl
Date: January 2, 2014

Daniel Ludwig
Daniel Ludwig

Shipping magnate Daniel K. Ludwig was a self-made billionaire.  He built his shipping empire from the ground up, working as a machinist, marine engineer, and ship handler to learn all elements of the business.  His understanding of how the industry worked allowed him to grow his business and become one of the most successful and wealthiest businessmen in the world with operations spanning 23 countries. Yet he remained private and humble, devoting much of his wealth to cancer research through the Ludwig Institute, a global research enterprise, and a trust that established Ludwig Centers and professorships at six research institutions in the United States.  Ludwig Cancer Research, on behalf of Daniel K. Ludwig, has committed $2.5 billion  to research to alter the course of cancer.   The most recent gift of $540 million,  is reported to be the largest cancer research contribution worldwide from a single private source. 

In 1971, Mr. Ludwig began applying the same principles that made him successful in business to cancer research. In shipping, he gained and used his knowledge of the industry to succeed.  In the same way, he understood that to make progress against cancer, the extraordinarily complex disease must first be understood.  Through the Ludwig Institute and Ludwig Centers, known collectively as Ludwig Cancer Research, he assembled the greatest scientific minds in the world and provided them with the resources and freedom to do their jobs.  In doing so, he created a global enterprise focused on cancer discovery and ultimately ways to prevent and cure it.

“Success in any complex enterprise consists in bringing the best minds to bear on each problem, in providing the best resources possible, and in putting each concept into practice whenever and wherever the opportunities are most favorable,” said Mr. Ludwig in 1974.  “I believe firmly in the value of applying these principles in grappling with tasks as momentous as finding ways to relieve the human suffering caused by cancer.”

Mr. Ludwig died in 1992 at 95, but his legacy continues through the pioneering cancer research he has funded. Through a trust created under his will, two professorial chairs in cancer research were endowed at six prominent United States academic institutions designated by Mr. Ludwig.  In 2006, the trust established Ludwig Centers at each of the six institutions and funded them with an initial $120 million split evenly among the centers. In the fall of 2013, an additional $540 million was divided among the centers.  To date, Ludwig Cancer Research has provided approximately $900 million in funding to the six institutions for the Ludwig Centers and endowed chairs.

Cancer genetics pioneers Bert Vogelstein, M.D., and Kenneth Kinzler, Ph.D., are directors of the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins. Mr. Ludwig’s vision of bringing together the best minds and best resources to tackle cancer has been realized through their work and the work of the talented, young investigators who have trained with them.  It was in this laboratory that cancer was defined as a genetic disease.  Like Mr. Ludwig, their influence far exceeds their name recognition. Drs. Vogelstein and Kinzler are not household names, but their research in deciphering the genetic causes of cancer is considered among the most relevant in the field of biomedicine having set the paradigm for how modern cancer research is conducted. With the support of Ludwig funding, their team has cracked the genetic codes of more forms of cancer than any other research team in the world. “The Ludwig Fund gave us the tools to complete these comprehensive genetic studies,” says Dr. Kinzler “It takes more than good ideas to drive discoveries, and the Ludwig bequests have revolutionized what we’ve been able to accomplish.  Because of this funding, we have pursued some of the most important questions in cancer research.”

Displaying humility similar to that of his benefactor, when asked how he would like to be remembered in 100 years, Dr. Vogelstein responded, “I hope I’m not remembered because that will mean cancer is no longer a threat.”  We suspect Daniel K. Ludwig would concur.

Articles in this Issue

Directors Letter

Daniel K. Ludwig

Feature Story: The Gene Team

Honors & Awards

The Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins

Headline Makers

Training Scientists Who Lead Cancer Discovery Around the Globe

Sequencing Our Genes: Is Cancer Written in Our DNA?

Ken Kinzler on the Ludwig Center