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Billionaire: I want to be broke by the time I die

Nicole Goodkind
Nicole Goodkind

Jon Huntsman, Sr. is the founder and chairman of Huntsman Corporation, father of 2012 presidential candidate, Jon Huntsman Jr., and a billionaire who has pledged to give away all of his money to charitable causes before he passes away. At the age of 77, he estimates that he’s already given away 80% of his net worth, or about $2 billion.

The majority of this money has gone to the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, the largest in the world for combined children and adult genetic cancer research, according to Huntsman. The cause is dear to Huntsman’s heart.  He has suffered from cancer four times, and his mother passed away early from the disease. “550,000 Americans die of cancer each year. One out of two men will have it, one out of three women… we’re going to find a cure for this disease,” he tells Yahoo Finance.

Research at the facility costs about $120 million a year, according to Huntsman. “I love to give money away,” says Huntsman. “I don’t know if it makes my children and grandchildren all that happy,” he remarks.

Huntsman doesn’t believe that public funding works with cancer research. “We’ve tried to have public and private partnerships but you know it’s hard to work with a bureaucracy,” he says. According to Huntsman, private research holds scientists accountable. Unlike with government bureaucracy, Huntsman says his researchers are, ”not in a situation where people don’t care about them or have lost them in the shuffle somewhere. We feel that private philanthropy is far more effective and productive.”

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, public funding for medical research in the United States has stalled since last year's government shutdown and the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester went into place. The National Institutes of Health took a 5.5% funding cut-- a total of $1.55 billion-- in March 2013 and has seen a 25% decrease in funding since 2003.

Because of these cuts, private funding is necessary to, “move ahead with clinical trials and in order to complete the research that’s absolutely essential to find the cures for these 200 different types of cancers,” says Huntsman. Still, private funding for medical research is also on the decline. The New England Journal of Medicine points out that between 2007 and 2012, private industry medical research investment in the U.S. fell by $12.9 billion.