University of Virginia Cancer Center Receives $5 Million Gift from Smithfield-Luter Foundation

February 09, 2006
February 9, 2006 — The University of Virginia Health System has received a $5 million gift from the Smithfield-Luter Foundation of Smithfield, Va. The gift will make a significant contribution to U.Va.’s effort to recruit an internationally recognized cancer prevention specialist and expand its cancer prevention research team.

The gift also will help U.Va. find new ways to assess cancer risk, detect cancer earlier and develop individualized prevention therapies.

“Not long ago, the idea of designing individualized cancer treatment and prevention strategies that match each patient's genes seemed like science fiction. Now these advances are within our grasp, and this gift will help us move quickly to reach them," said John T. Casteen III, president of the University of Virginia. "I am grateful to the Smithfield-Luter Foundation for the many ways this gift will further our understanding of cancer and for the hope it will bring to the citizens of the commonwealth and the nation."

Smithfield’s gift is being made in memory of longtime Smithfield associate and director Palmer Weber, father of U.Va. Cancer Center Director Michael Weber. The gift will not only endow a professorship, but it will provide vital programmatic support for research laboratories and start-up funds for an investigative team that will use molecular profiling technologies to improve individual and public health.

“More precise knowledge of cancer at the molecular level will lead to better and safer care for our cancer patients,” said Arthur Garson Jr., M.D., M.P.H., vice president and dean of the School of Medicine. “Thanks to Smithfield-Luter’s generosity, U.Va. will be one of the first in the country and the first in Virginia to offer these services. We will join an elite group of cancer centers developing new models for ‘individualized medicine,’ meaning that because each patient’s cancer may respond differently to treatment, we must learn to predict the most effective course of treatment for each patient.”

Outreach programs for the communities the University of Virginia serves will complement research efforts in cancer prevention. “This new cancer prevention research program has the potential to develop tests for early detection and individualized prevention that will benefit our patients within three to five years,” explained Weber. “We will eventually be able to detect cancer earlier, determine the prognosis and prescribe the most appropriate therapies for each patient based on his or her particular individualized diagnosis of cancer.”

“On behalf of our chairman and chief executive officer, Joseph W. Luter III, the Smithfield-Luter Foundation and the employees of Smithfield Foods, it is my pleasure to make this commitment,” said Richard J.M. Poulson, executive vice president and senior adviser to the chairman, as he delivered the foundation’s first pledge payment of $1 million to Casteen and Garson. “We believe that U.Va.’s dedicated and talented faculty and staff are advancing cancer research and care, and we are proud to partner with them in the fight against this deadly disease. This gift is made in memory of Palmer Weber, whose vision and foresight have been instrumental in making Smithfield Foods the company it is today. Mr. Weber’s name even today is frequently mentioned at Smithfield board meetings.”

Palmer Weber was born in Smithfield, Va., and earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees at U.Va. (College ’34, Graduate Arts & Sciences ’38 and ’40), where he also lectured in philosophy and economics. Weber, who died in 1986, was the first white Southerner elected to the national board of the NAACP and was a staff member on numerous congressional committees during World War II. In his later years, Weber became an investment banker with his own firm in Charlottesville. Two U.Va. professorships bear his name — the F. Palmer Weber Research Professorship in Civil Liberties and Human Rights in the School of Law and the F. Palmer Weber Medical Research Professorship in the School of Medicine.

Founded in 2001 by Smithfield Foods chairman and chief executive officer Joseph W. Luter III, the Smithfield-Luter Foundation is a non-profit organization that among its other activities provides need-based scholarships to the dependent children and grandchildren of full-time or retired employees of the Smithfield Foods, Inc., family of companies. The amount of each scholarship is determined by the university’s financial aid office and does not exceed the cost of tuition, course-related fees, books, supplies and equipment for the student. The foundation also provides scholarships to Christopher Newport University and funding to select charitable organizations.