A Grand Investment logoWest Michigan is becoming a magnet for collaboration in medical research, innovation and care. This is the first in a series of articles that take a look at what’s happening now and what’s on the horizon.

Utopia or reality?

When Dr. Norman Beauchamp looks to the future of biomedical research and healthcare, he describes what sounds like a health science utopia.

He talks about an environment where researchers from multiple hospitals, universities and private institutions collaborate rather than compete to attract the investment and talent needed to improve patient care.

He describes a place where, together, clinicians, researchers, educators and entrepreneurs use big data to analyze disease, diagnose it earlier and treat it more effectively – where, for instance, data analytics leads to the discovery that a drug used to treat sleeping sickness can also effectively treat neuroblastoma in children, and a drug used to treat scleroderma also decreases melanoma’s ability to metastasize by 90 percent. 

But this place is not a utopian fantasy. It exists, its impact on human health is growing and it’s spurring life-saving discoveries. The place is Grand Rapids, and it’s where “doing the most good” is the driving force behind every decision.

The 'Cycle of Innovation' involves multiple facets of the health process such as patient care, education and research.

The 'Cycle of Innovation' involves multiple facets of the health process such as patient care, education and research.

Photo Credit: Michigan State University College of Human Medicine


Norman J. Beauchamp Jr., MD, MHS, is the dean of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, headquartered in Grand Rapids, and associate provost and assistant vice president for health affairs at MSU.

He also heads up the MSU Grand Rapids Research Center. Opened in 2017, the center is a 163,000 square-foot facility that currently houses nearly 175 research faculty and staff – 28 principal investigators and their teams, with future capacity for 44 teams – working on research into Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, women’s health issues, autism, pediatric cancers, inflammation, transplantation and genetics.  

Ultimately, through a public-private partnership with Health Innovation Partners, the remaining parcel of land will become the Michigan State University Grand Rapids Innovation Park, with groundbreaking for a 200,000 square foot medical innovation building and 600-car parking structure slated for September 2019. A third building is planned for the future.

A quarter century of investment

The research center anchors the western end of what is referred to as the Medical Mile, also home to Spectrum Health – the largest health system in West Michigan – including its dedicated pediatric hospital, heart center and cancer center.

The 1996 founding of the Van Andel Institute, a private biomedical research and science education institution, is seen as the catalyst for billions of dollars of investment in life science infrastructure along the Medical Mile over the past quarter century.

Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Photo Credit: Michigan State University College of Human Medicine


Since that time, this downtown district has attracted the MSU College of Human Medicine, Grand Valley State University’s health sciences campus, Grand Rapids Community College’s science center, Ferris State University College of Pharmacy, a women’s health center, a Metro Health-University of Michigan Health orthopaedic surgical center, as well as numerous clinical office developments.

Using data to drive innovation

The catalytic effect will continue with the opening of the medical innovation building in late 2021. There, MSU will add a bioinformatics core to support discovery and help bring effective treatments to market.

Beauchamp explains the value of the bioinformatics core like this: “If we can do a better job aggregating patient data – bringing together information about the environments patients live in, their current health, treatments that have worked or failed in the past, even their genomics – then connect that data to people who can use it for innovation and discovery, we can not only improve care, but we can make it more accessible and more affordable.”

He cites this example. “If you’re an entrepreneur and you’ve invented a new device that allows a person to measure their blood sugar at home, you’ll need to prove its efficacy before you can bring it to market. If that device can collect information about a patient’s blood glucose, exercise, diet, hospitalizations, etc., and feed it to the cloud, data scientists can analyze it and determine real-time effects of your device. If that data shows that people who use your device have fewer hospitalizations, miss fewer days of work, have fewer interventions and are healthier, you can prove efficacy and decrease the time – and costs – associated with bringing your product to market.”

Norman J. Beauchamp Jr, MD, MHS, became dean of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in October 2016, and Michigan State University associate provost and assistant vice president for health affairs, February 2018.

Norman J. Beauchamp Jr, MD, MHS, became dean of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in October 2016, and Michigan State University associate provost and assistant vice president for health affairs, February 2018.

Photo Credit: Michigan State University College of Human Medicine


Building on this idea, the plan is to collaborate with other Grand Rapids-area research, economic development and community partners to recruit biomedical entrepreneurs, start-ups, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and investors to the innovation center, then connect them to clinical operations, medical education and research through the bioinformatics core which provides bioinformatics analysis to support research activities.

Ultimately, this ecosystem will leverage collaboration and big data to drive discovery, improve patient outcomes, enhance access to care, lower costs and speed cures.

“If you’re the place where people can go from idea to implementation faster and the likelihood of getting their products to market is higher, you become an awesome place for innovators,” says Beauchamp.

Utopia? No, Grand Rapids.

In the next installment of A Grand Investment, we’ll take a look at some of the innovators that are planning to be part of the new MSU medical innovation building when it opens in 2021.  

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