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Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer pledges $10 million to IU Simon Cancer Center

INDIANAPOLIS -- Nov. 12, 2009 -- Not only does Vera Bradley make popular handbags, but it also fights against breast cancer.

The Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer will announce later today that it is committing $10 million to breast cancer research at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center.

"The decision of our foundation board was unanimous", Patricia R. Miller, co-founder of Vera Bradley, said of the gift.

"Generosity and commitment like that from the Vera Bradley Foundation are what will make the difference in this disease," D. Craig Brater, dean of the IU School of Medicine, said. "These gifts touch women every day, not just in Indiana, but all over the world."

"When we made our first pledge of $1.2 million in 1998, we had no idea so much lifesaving research would come from our partnership with IU," Barbara Baekgaard, Miller's business partner, said. "We just knew we had to do something about a disease that took the life of a very good friend."

In addition to the 1998 pledge, Vera Bradley Foundation made pledges to the cancer center's breast cancer research program of $2 million in 2003 and $6.8 million in 2006.

Those gifts represent the single-largest philanthropic resource for IU's program. The foundation's generosity is spurring the development of new treatments for women with advanced forms of this disease.

"Vera Bradley Foundation funding has allowed us to be a leader in understanding breast cancer and to be at the forefront of critical discoveries," George W. Sledge, M.D., co-director of the IU Simon Cancer Center breast cancer program, said. "We now know that breast cancer is not a single disease, but many unique diseases. We also know that we are unlikely to find one magic bullet that cures all cases. Instead, we are working to develop an arsenal of successful treatment options and then learn how to determine the best approach for each individual woman."

Dr. Sledge and co-director Linda Malkas, Ph.D., point to multiple advancements made possible in the last 10 years as a result of Vera Bradley Foundation funding:

  • IU is now the only site in the world testing the only potential new therapy to force breast cancer cells to grow old and die. The IU researcher who played a pivotal role in developing the drug trained under one of the scientists who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine for pioneering this groundbreaking area of science.
  • Patients at the IU Simon Cancer Center have been the first in the world to receive new life-extending therapies such as Avastin. As a direct result of IU research, the drug recently received FDA approval for the treatment of advanced breast cancer.
  • Indiana University's breast cancer program has grown to 34 members, up from six in 1999. Vera Bradley funding was directly used to recruit 10 of these faculty members, including Dr. Malkas, who is the Vera Bradley Chair in Oncology.
  • In 2008, the breast cancer research program was reviewed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The program received the NCI's highest ranking.
  • Annual research grant funding for the 34-member team now exceeds $10 million.

In recognition of the foundation's past gifts, IU recently established the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Research Laboratories, located in Joseph E. Walther Hall, the medical school's newest and largest research building.

"The women and volunteers who work so hard in Fort Wayne to raise this money inspire us. We love our partnership with the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer. We are committed to them and to our patients who count on us," Dr. Malkas said.

About the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer

The Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer is celebrating its 11 years of funding breast cancer research at the IU School of Medicine. With the endowment of the Vera Bradley Chair in Oncology, currently held by Dr. Malkas, and other gifts totaling $10 million, the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer is doing its part to eradicate breast cancer. The Foundation receives funding through the sale of Vera Bradley breast cancer awareness designs, special events across the nation and through donations on verabradley.org.