The $19.5 million contribution from Doug Meijer and the Meijer Foundation could generate “incredible” benefits for cancer research and treatment and boost philanthropy for the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.
The gift to pay for a radiopharmacy at the university’s downtown research campus represents the largest single donation ever to the Grand Rapids-based medical school and one of the largest for MSU.
The College of Human Medicine looks to leverage the gift when appealing to other prospective major benefactors, said Norman Beauchamp, MSU’s executive vice president for health services.
The Meijer family and Meijer Foundation “really scrutinize with great detail” the contributions they make and “look at everything they do to say, ‘is this going to have the intended impact if we invest our resources?’” Beauchamp said.
He said the Meijer donation signals “we trust Michigan State, we trust the college. If we put these resources in, we’re going to get a return.”
“If an organization (and) if individuals with the respect and the credibility and the track record of Meijer invests in this, it’s going to lead other community leaders, other industries to say, ‘Hey, if we want to have an impact, if we want to have a return for what we’re doing in all the ways that matter, this is the partner we can trust — Michigan State University and what they’re doing in West Michigan.”
The Meijer gift will pay to design, construct and equip a radiopharmacy at the planned Medical Innovation Building that will occupy existing green space at MSU’s Grand Rapids Innovation Park located at Michigan Street and Ottawa Avenue.
Last month, MSU trustees agreed to proceed with the radiopharmacy and name the building after Doug Meijer, a prostate cancer survivor and former co-chair at Meijer Inc. who remains on the family-owned supercenter retailer’s board of directors and serves as a foundation trustee.
“The Meijer family has always been passionate about health care and I am thankful to have the ability to carry that passion forward,” Doug Meijer said in a statement. “This new Medical Innovation Building will help save lives and improve the quality of life for many people through remarkable cancer fighting technology. Patients will no longer have to travel overseas to receive needed treatment. I am living proof this technology works.”
A groundbreaking on the 211,600-square-foot Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building is set for Nov. 18. MSU expects the center to open in October 2021. The medical school would sublease the radiopharmacy to a private partner to operate and to secure needed regulatory approvals and licensing.
MSU trustees previously approved a deal for the Medical Innovation Building’s development by Health Innovation Partners LLC, a joint venture between Chicago-based MB Real Estate, Chicago-based Walsh Construction/Walsh Investors and Grand Rapids-based Rockford Construction Co. Inc.
Having the building named after Meijer “does make a declaration to other community supporters to come forward and say ‘This is a place where innovation is happening.’ If Doug Meijer believes in it, if the foundation believes in it, then the community will have even greater confidence (in giving to MSU),” Beauchamp said.
“This not only is an unimaginable and extraordinary gift itself, but what it catalyzes is multiplicative,” he said.
Delivering the vision
The Meijer contribution and the radiopharmacy provides a major step forward in the vision MSU first laid out more than a decade ago when moving the medical school to Grand Rapids, when it said it wanted to position West Michigan “to be the leader in transforming health,” Beauchamp said.
MSU’s Grand Rapids Research Center anchors the eastern end of the Medical Mile, a clinical, education and research cluster that has arisen over the past two decades and positioned Grand Rapids as a destination for research and care.
“It’s given everybody a real new view of Grand Rapids,” said Peter Secchia, who’s been among local business leaders pushing the Medical Mile vision for more than 20 years and gave heavily to support it. “It’s going to make a big difference in this city.”
A longtime MSU benefactor, Secchia and his wife, Joan Secchia, just gave $5 million to complete a $30 million capital campaign for the Grand Rapids Research Center. The donation to MSU was the latest contribution from the Secchias, both of whom are Spartan alums.
The Secchias joined the late Richard and Helen DeVos in 2016 for a combined gift of $15 million to launch MSU’s capital campaign on behalf of the $88 million Grand Rapids Research Center, which opened two years ago. The couples previously made a $20 million combined gift to construct and name the Secchia Center on Michigan Street, home of MSU’s College of Human Medicine.
“When you put the research center together and the research buildings, and you add Grand Valley (State University), and you add Spectrum Health and you add Van Andel (Institute), and you add the others who want to participate, we have a gangbuster host for the Medical Mile. People will be coming here for years,” Secchia told MiBiz.
The radiopharmacy supported by the Meijer donation will bring to Grand Rapids a new, advanced cancer treatment that’s presently undergoing clinical trials in the U.S., Beauchamp said. He expects that treatment to earn U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval by the time the Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building opens in two years.
The cyclotron-equipped radiopharmacy will produce diagnostic and therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals for clinical and research uses.
The radiopharmacy will “allow us to treat cancer better for all people who seek care,” according to Beauchamp. The technology enables doctors to precisely target cancer cells in patients, reducing complications from chemotherapy that treats the cancer “but it affects the whole person.”
“There’s a way to actually create a molecule that you can inject that will go through the body and it will attach to the cancer. Only when it attaches will it then treat the cancer where it exists,” Beauchamp said. “Where will it be possible to get that therapy? In our Innovation Park. This radiopharmacy will make it possible.
“It’s going to make amazing care possible for people and cancer.”
The facility also opens a new research area for MSU that can attract not only more researchers, but also private industry and startup companies to Grand Rapids that want to partner with the College of Human Medicine.
In raising the level of cancer research conducted there, the campus could also attract researchers in other areas of focus at the College of Human Medicine, including behavioral health, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and autism.
“It also creates a convergence to connect to individuals certainly interested in other areas of health, but also industry partners that want to innovate when they see the infrastructure and what’s in West Michigan with the existing research building, Innovation Park and now this radiopharmacy,” Beauchamp said. “They’re like, ‘Yeah, this is real and we want to get on the team.’
“If you’re the place that’s developing it and putting it in place, imaging companies, therapy companies, they’re going to want to be side by side, and so it really creates this awesome convergence.”