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Prebys donation goes to Burnham

The event was billed as “What One Man Can Do.” And what the man being honored has done is a lot.

A host of speakers on Jan. 29 saluted philanthropist Conrad Prebys, whose $10 million donation to Burnham Institute for Medical Research will fund the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics.

Also at the event were representatives of other San Diego organizations bearing the Prebys name in some shape or form- the San Diego Zoo, Old Globe Theater, UCSD, Scripps Mercy Hospital, and the Boys and Girls Club of East County.

Prebys is president of Progress Construction and Management Co., a real estate firm he founded in 1966.

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Discovery engine

Dr. John Reed, Burnham’s president and chief executive officer, said Prebys’s latest gift “promises to make a worldwide difference in health by providing a new engine for medicine discovery,” he said. “It’s about discovering tomorrow’s medicine to fight cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.”

Mayor Jerry Sanders hailed Prebys’ spirit of giving.

“The life science sector feels like it has a new champion,” he said. “That’s what we need, that spirit of cooperation, people stepping forward … That is not only going to help us with medical discoveries but to create new jobs, research that can be used not only nationwide but worldwide.”

Philanthropy in action

Malin Burnham, the institute’s chairman, joked that Prebys once told him, “ ‘I intend to die broke.’ I immediately said, ‘Conrad, I’ll do everything I possibly can to help you.’ ”
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Prebys said his philanthropic inspiration was humanitarianism.

“To be a small part of this, to help reduce suffering or maybe save one life - that’s remarkable … the possibility of maybe saving millions of lives,” he said. “Just to be a part of that, that’s priceless.”

Hugging his friends and donning a white lab coat given him as a gift of his generosity, Prebys gleamed as the veil covering the building named in his honor was lifted at the end of the dedication ceremony.

Dr. Mark Mercola, director of the Neuroscience, Aging and Stem Cell Research Center at Burnham, said the Prebys center is a testing center screening thousands of potential drugs in the search to find effective agents to combat disease.

With the high-tech capability of the chemical genomics center, drug development can be rapidly accelerated and costs reduced, he said.