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Michael Schug
IU Simon Cancer Center

Melissa Schenkel
Vera Bradley

Last modified: Thursday, November 12, 2009

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

Nov. 12, 2009

(EDITORS: The preferred style for the cancer center on first reference is the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. On second and subsequent references, IU Simon Cancer Center is preferred.)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Not only does Vera Bradley make popular handbags, but the Fort Wayne, Ind., company also is a generous partner with the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in the fight against breast cancer.

Simon Cancer Center

IU Simon Cancer Center

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The Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer announced today (Nov. 12) that it is committing $10 million to breast cancer research at the IU 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," said Dr. D. Craig Brater, dean of the IU School of Medicine. "These gifts touch women every day, not just in Indiana, but all over the world."

Vera Bradley launched the foundation in 1998 and, since then, endowed the Vera Bradley Chair of Oncology and established the Vera Bradley Breast Cancer Research Endowment. The foundation's gifts of more than $10 million, before today's additional commentment, represented the single-largest philanthropic resource for IU's program. The foundation receives funding through the sale of Vera Bradley breast cancer awareness designs, special events across the nation and through donations on

"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," said Barbara Baekgaard, Miller's business partner. "We just knew we had to do something about a disease that took the life of a very good friend."

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Patricia Miller

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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 School of Medicine's newest and largest research building.

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," said Dr. George W. Sledge, co-director of the IU Simon Cancer Center breast cancer program. "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," Sledge continued. "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."

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Courtesy of Vera Bradley

Barbara Baekgaard

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Sledge and co-director Linda Malkas, who holds the Vera Bradley Chair of Oncology, 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 from six in 1999. Vera Bradley funding was directly used to recruit 10 of these faculty members, including Malkas.
  • In 2008, the breast cancer research program was reviewed by the National Cancer Institute. The program received the NCI's highest ranking.
  • Annual research grant funding for the 34-member team now exceeds $10 million.

"The women and volunteers who work so hard in Fort Wayne to raise this money inspire us," said Malkas. "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."