With $10 million in state grant funding in hand, the Medical College of Wisconsin is nearly ready to break ground on its planned new cancer research facility on the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center campus in Wauwatosa.
The State Building Commission in early August approved the release of $10 million to MCW, as part of $306 million in total approved funds for projects across Wisconsin.
First announced in 2019, the 150,000-square-foot Cancer Research Center will cost about $100 million to build, plus additional costs to furnish and equip the building. The total project cost is currently estimated at $153 million, according to commission documents.
Construction is expected to break ground this fall for a late 2024/early 2025 target completion, said Gustavo Leone, Ph.D., director of the MCW Cancer Center.
The new MCW center is envisioned as a hub for research related to the biological, genetic and social causes of cancer and cancer disparities in Wisconsin, with cancer now being the most frequent cause of death in the state. It would be designed to allow MCW to centralize its existing cancer research operations – which currently consists of 600 to 700 researchers in 135 labs spread across 10 different buildings on campus –accommodate its expansion plans and allow MCW to better engage with community partners and research participants, the college has said.
Importantly, the facility will allow for more collaboration and interaction between MCW’s researchers and physician scientists as they continue driving toward the shared goal of eradicating the cancer burden in patients across the state.
“I don’t know where the solution for cancer is going to come from, I don’t know that. So, our role is to maximize the interactions so we don’t miss an opportunity,” said Leone in an interview with BizTimes Milwaukee.
“Because all these key scientists are dispersed all over campus, they don’t run into each other everyday across the hallway, having a coffee. … That’s a big problem for research in general, for cancer specifically,” he added.
The synergy of a group working under one roof toward a common goal is hard to measure, said Leone, but from an internal culture perspective, it can’t hurt.
“People that are somewhat related – even though they work in very disparate areas, some are physicians seeing patients in clinical trials while others are people solving atomic structures – with the same goal that we want to understand cancer better, hopefully to benefit patients, I think have more fun, are more engaged in what they do. And people that have fun and are engaged in what they do usually do a better job,” said Leone.
As far as industry reputation goes, MCW’s cancer center is aiming to be recognized as one of the best in the nation by the National Cancer Institute. Earning a prestigious NCI designation requires “clinical strength, basic science and discovery strength and community impact strength” and for the institution to show commitment, said Leone. The planned cancer research facility is a step toward that goal.
“It shows (MCW) has a commitment to cancer for the long term,” he said. “It’s not giving us $10 million to do research or something else and then goes away. It’s a huge investment by the state and the institution is saying we have a commitment not for the next five years but for the next 50-plus years because this building is going to be here for a long time. That’s an important statement NCI needs to hear. ”
Since 2008, when MCW identified cancer as the institution’s top strategic priority, it has invested more than $180 million in its existing cancer center, according to budget documents.
MCW’s planned research center is one of two projects at the Regional Medical Campus to receive funding from the building commission. $99.5 million was allocated for a new 92,000-square-foot state crime lab, which will replace the existing Department of Justice Milwaukee Crime Lab on South 11th Street in Milwaukee and serve as a joint facility with the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management and Medical Examiner’s Office.