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Dana-Farber Cancer Institute on Saturday received a $63 million donation, the largest single gift in the institution’s history.

It’s the latest record set by the cancer center’s most generous donor: the Pan-Mass Challenge.

The local athletic fund-raiser that’s been around for 40 years draws thousands of participants who ride bicycles on routes that stretch from central Massachusetts to as far as the coast as a way of raising money for charity.

PMC raises more money than any other single-event athletic fund-raiser in the country, and has beaten its own personal record for donations to Dana-Farber year after year since 2010.

Total contributions to the institute across PMC’s entire lifetime now surpass $717 million, making the organization the largest single contributor to both Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund, a fund-raising initiative that supports the cancer center.

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“They’re an essential, essential source of resources for us,” Dana-Farber president and chief executive Dr. Laurie Glimcher said, referring to PMC.

Funding provided by the bike-a-thon has been put toward the development of 41 cancer drugs and the discovery of new medical techniques that can pin-point mutations that cause cancer, as well as other research efforts by the cancer center.

While Dana-Farber has yet to decide what it plans to do with this year’s donation — which was gifted to the institute during a gala held Saturday night — Glimcher said she expects it will be used to fund even more of the institution’s research.

Glimcher added that donations from PMC are unique in that the funds it provides are unrestricted. That means they can be used in whatever way leadership at Dana-Farber thinks is best.

Glimcher said that support from organizations like PMC are important to academic medical centers like Dana-Farber because it can be hard to secure government funding for much of their research.

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“This is not the kind of research that the federal government is going to support when it’s first beginning, because it is so innovative,” she said. “And it is high risk, but high yield if what you’re testing turns out to be important. And scientists desperately need the resources to follow their brightest ideas.”

Dana-Farber brought in $323.4 million in donations for the fiscal year that ended in September, which includes $56 million donated by PMC last year.

PMC was founded by Billy Starr in 1980. He said there were 36 riders and 10 volunteers involved in the organization’s inaugural ride that year, which raised $10,200.

This year, over 6,800 cyclists set out on more than a dozen routes that spread out across a combined 360 miles. Those riders were backed by 4,000 volunteers.

More than 150 Dana-Farber employees participated in the event.

Starr described a “sea of cyclists” riding as part of this year’s challenge, flanked on either side of the road by grateful supporters. Starr said that the routes the cyclists traveled compared favorably to bike routes elsewhere in the country.

“[To] go from the rolling hills of central Mass to the natural seashore of Cape Cod is a — just one of the great rides in the country,” he said.

Starr credited a number of factors with the organization’s growth and its ability to draw in and support more riders, including the advent of the internet and an increased familiarity with Dana-Farber nationwide.

“Now I can register 4,000 people in two weeks in January,” Starr said. “That was a game changer.”

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The event also receives financial support from sponsors, including New Balance and the Red Sox Foundation. The Red Sox Foundation was founded by John Henry, who also owns The Boston Globe.

Starr said he had an inkling when he started the event that it had the potential to become “big,” but that he didn’t comprehend the scale it would eventually reach. He said he’s pleased with the amount of money raised this year.

“Once more I get to say it’s an all time high,” he said.


Max Reyes can be reached at @MaxJReyes.