updated 2/14/2007 9:57:52 AM ET 2007-02-14T14:57:52

A drug company is pledging $10 million to The American Cancer Society — one of the largest gifts in the organization’s history — to help provide one-on-one support for cancer patients in U.S. hospitals, the organization announced Wednesday.

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The unusual gift is from AstraZeneca PLC, an international pharmaceutical company.

It’s earmarked for a program that stations specially-trained Cancer Society employees in 60 hospitals and cancer treatment centers. The “navigators” guide patients to social and emotional support, transportation, medical and financial assistance services.

The gift will allow the program to expand to 50 more locations in medically underserved areas, said Nancy Single, the Cancer Society’s vice president for mission strategy.

The Atlanta-based Cancer Society, founded in 1913, receives just under $1 billion in gifts and grants each year. Less than 2 percent of that comes from drug companies, she said.

The largest single gift to date was a $13 million unrestricted estate bequest in 2005, from an undisclosed donor. AstraZeneca’s is the second largest gift, and is the biggest from a corporation.

AstraZeneca, based in London, had health care sales of more than $26 billion last year. The company developed the popular breast cancer drug tamoxifen, and makes about a half-dozen other breast and prostate cancer medications.

Last year, the company gave $7 million to help the Cancer Society develop a Hope Lodge in Boston. AstraZeneca has been looking for important ways to work with the Cancer Society to help patients, said Lisa Schoenberg, the company’s vice president of specialty care.

“There’s probably few ways we could have as big of an impact across the nation with these important institutions and these important patients and their families,” she said.

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