VAI Phase 2

January 6, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — As part of its fifth anniversary celebration last spring, the Van Andel Institute unveiled plans for a 280,000-square-foot addition to more than double the size of the medical research and education facility on Michigan Street hill. The project is expected to create 400 new jobs over time.

Ground will be broken this spring and construction will take about two and a half years to complete.

The VAI will invest $120 million to $150 million in both private funds and bonds to construct the Phase II square footage on the west side of the facility, fronting North Division Avenue.

“The vision was always bigger and it’s getting bigger all the time,” said VAI Chairman and CEO David Van Andel. “Improving human health has been our institutional promise from the day we opened our doors, and it continues to this day.”

Presently, the Van Andel Research Institute has 17 laboratories and 189 full-time employees, including 55 scientists, 70 research support staff and 64 administrative staff members. With the expansion, the VAI will more than double the number of labs and create some 400 new labs over time.

“With more labs and with a larger research team, we will advance new initiatives in basic and translational research,” Van Andel said. “We’ll move more aggressively into research related to Alzheimer’s; we announced recently a move into Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders. We’ll also move more aggressively into some areas of cancer research, such as multiple melanoma.”

The VAI’s annual operating budget is currently $30 million. Van Andel said when the facility is fully built out, fully staffed and operating at capacity, the budget will grow to more than $100 million a year. The institute is funded by a combination of its endowment, research grants and private philanthropy.

“As the institute grows, so will industry in West Michigan. For instance, we expect that the expanded base in research capabilities will greatly enhance our community’s opportunity to develop a new medical school with a strong emphasis on research,” he said, referring to the Michigan State University medical school discussions that are under way.

The expansion also opens up more opportunities for VARI to partner with area health care institutions to apply the knowledge it has gained through molecular research to diagnoses, therapies and new procedures that directly impact people in West Michigan, he said.

“As the institute grows, so will industry in West Michigan,” he said. Van Andel, along with George Vande Woude, director of the Van Andel Research Institute and VAI Chief Administrative Officer Steve Heacock, are the nominees for the VAI expansion story as Newsmaker of the Year.

The VAI’s expanded base in future research capabilities helped attract an accredited medical school to Grand Rapids  — the Michigan State University West Michigan Medical — which will have a strong emphasis on research. The school will welcome its first 50 students in 2008 and be fully operational as a four-year medical school in early 2010.

“The opportunity to commercialize and create new industries is going to be a tremendous thing that’s going to happen here in West Michigan and in Michigan as a whole.”

Private investor Michael Jandernoa, chairman of Michigan’s 5-year-old Life Sciences Corridor, said the corridor has changed the attitudes and altered the perceptions of people both nationally and internationally about life sciences in Michigan.

“We have the research expertise at the Van Andel Institute leveraged with the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Wayne State and now Western Michigan University, and it creates opportunities for commercial partners and research organizations that are interested in partnering and taking that opportunity from the research step into the commercialization phase,” Jandernoa said.

“There’s venture capital money that’s now flowing into the state of Michigan and venture capital funds that now exist in the state of Michigan as a direct spin-off and benefit of the Van Andel Institute.”    

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