Thomas Perkins Distinguished Professorship

reprinted from Issue 21, Fall 2015 of Frontiers of Medicine (PDF)

Venture capitalist Thomas Perkins (above left) and Charles Ryan, MD, (third from left) and their families at the investiture ceremony celebrating the creation of the Thomas Perkins Distinguished Professorship in Cancer Research. Ryan leads the Genitourinary Medical Oncology Program, highlighted on page 5, which leads cutting-edge, multidisciplinary investigations of better treatments for prostate cancer and other genitourinary cancers.

One of Thomas Perkins’ first bosses was David Packard at Hewlett-Packard. "He taught everybody that you had to make a contribution during your life, whether through charity, invention or something useful," recalled Perkins. "It became imbued in my mind very early."

Perkins, a founding partner of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, certainly followed that advice. He became an early pioneer of Silicon Valley, serving on the boards of Compaq, Genentech and Tandem Computers, and his firm has invested in more than 500 companies, including Amazon, Google and Twitter.

In addition to his brilliant career, Perkins has been a generous philanthropist, supporting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, San Francisco Ballet and many other organizations. He recently made a gift to UCSF, creating the Thomas Perkins Distinguished Professorship in Cancer Research in honor of oncologist Charles Ryan, MD, who leads the UCSF Genitourinary Medical Oncology Program.

"I am enormously impressed with Dr. Ryan," said Perkins, who is one of Ryan’s patients. "I have a low-grade prostate cancer, which he has fortunately kept low-grade for years now. I want to understand the physics, chemistry, biochemistry and what is going on, and he always explains it very carefully and cogently. He is also a scientist – he understands the research aspect thoroughly, has conducted clinical trials himself, and is willing to try things that others have dismissed."

With a laugh, Perkins added, "He’s a little aggressive, which is good – I am, too."

"I am delighted to be the first recipient of this Distinguished Professorship," said Ryan. "It provides me the security to be creative and take risks, and that’s incredibly exciting. It’s very humbling to think that the same person who has supported ventures such as Genentech and Google is now investing in our work. He inspires us to think about novel approaches to cancer in an intellectually rigorous way."

"I think cancer will be with us for a very long time, and it’s a battle that is not going to be quickly won," said Perkins. "I hope this chair will continue on forever, long after I am gone and even after Dr. Ryan is gone, and that it will continue to support pioneering research.... I feel it is one of my purposes in life – to give back some of the wonderful gifts that have been given to me, in terms of family, children, education and opportunity."

For more information about how to establish an Endowed Chair or Distinguished Professorship, please contact Executive Director of Development Olivia Herbert at (415) 476-9878 or

Frontiers of Medicine Main Page