Paramount's Star-Studded Gala Raises $9 Million for USC Cancer Researcher

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Paramount Studio chief Brad Grey

Dr. David Agus, a pioneer in molecular medicine, has become a cause celebre among the entertainment industry and media moguls. Jimmy Kimmel emceed the Thursday event, which included a performance by Pharrell Williams.

In a town that understands how stars are made, Dr. David B. Agus is a medical supernova, which is why a glittering constellation of Hollywood notables turned out Thursday night to raise a stunning $9 million to support his pioneering cancer research.

The Paramount Pictures fundraiser -- labeled "Rebels with a Cause" -- was put together by the studio’s chief, Brad Grey, who amassed $4.5 million in contributions from the entertainment industry. When high-tech multi-billionaire and Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who was being honored for his longtime support of Agus’ cutting-edge research into cancer’s genetic roots, was informed of that total, he promptly offered to match it with a personal donation. That brought the night’s total to $9 million.

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Though Agus is perhaps best known for treating Steve Jobs in the final years of his advanced illness, it was the physician’s treatment of Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone that prompted entertainment industry philanthropists to take notice of his work. Redstone credits Agus with saving his life after he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer. The USC medical researcher's patient roster also includes Neil Young, Ted Kennedy, Lance Armstrong and Robin Quivers. (Agus recently appeared on the Howard Stern show where the radio host credited him with saving Quivers' life.)

"I met David through Sumner Redstone three years ago," Grey told The Hollywood Reporter. "He said to me, 'David Agus is a genius.' We became very good friends and I got to know quite a lot about what he's up to. And it's simply inspiring.

"I'm just a show business guy -- these are the real heroes," Grey said of Agus. "But I think we have some role in this, which is to do anything and everything we can to raise money and fund research so that it's not just this community that is getting this treatment, it's the world. That's why we're here."

Apart from a star-studded patient roster, Agus also has a personal connection to the entertainment industry, since he’s married to actress Amy Joyce Povich, daughter of syndicated talk show host Maury Povich, which makes Connie Chung his mother-in-law.

Thursday’s turnout, which included an unusually wide mix of stars and moguls, underscored Agus’ rising celebrity and high-level Hollywood belief in the “personal medicine” he has pioneered. That approach tailors cancer treatment to a patient’s unique genetic and molecular makeup, while emphasizing treatments that keep a person’s entire system healthy, thereby mobilizing the body’s own cellular defenses and arresting cancer’s possible spread. The physician’s two companies develop the technologies to analyze an individual patient’s genomes and proteomes so as to identify their unique on-off switches to cancer. 

Funds raised during the evening will be used for a new research center for Agus, who directs USC’s Westside Norris Cancer Center and its Molecular Medicine Center while holding down an appointment in the school’s distinguished engineering department.

Ellison told the crowd that Agus' treatment has extended the lives of many people dear to him. "Our understanding of the fundamentals of disease is growing exponentially because of people like David Agus, who have devoted their lives to helping others through the advancement of science and technology and medicine," he said.

Apart from Grey and Ellison, those attending the Paramount fundraiser included, among many others, Haim Saban, Barry Manilow and Pharrell Williams (who performed), Jonah Hill, Anna KendrickSacha Baron Cohen, Isla Fisher, Jimmy Kimmel (who emceed), Alice Eve, January Jones, Chris Pine, Molly Shannon, Christopher Nolan, John Stamos, Carole Bayer Sager, B.J. Novak, Michael Milken and Jerry Bruckheimer.

"You have all heard about the breakthroughs in cancer treatments in the media, but I am here to tell you that the time is now for major change," Agus told the crowd. "We are at a tipping point where technology will allow us to make quantum leaps in treating this horrible disease."