VARI, MSU Reach $16M Agreement

October 13, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Van Andel Research Institute inked a deal with Michigan State University Tuesday, agreeing to invest $2 million annually over the next eight years to support a four-year MSU West Michigan Medical School in Grand Rapids.

The agreement is effective through 2014 and is renewable every five years after that.

A university medical research capability is a necessary component of a healthy and diverse life sciences environment, said Van Andel Institute Chairman and CEO David Van Andel. The MSU West Michigan Medical School will help further develop the life sciences infrastructure already in place and will complement everything that’s here today or is planned for the future, he said.

“This medical school will create high-paying jobs in academics, medicine and related industries and will also augment our existing research capabilities and help us in the translational (research) effort,” Van Andel remarked. “It will enhance, we believe, health care in general in West Michigan and will result in a human and economic benefit for all of our citizens.”

In addition to the VAI, the “stakeholders” in the effort to bring the medical school here include Grand Valley State University, Grand Action, Saint Mary’s Health Care and The Right Place Inc.

The medical school, Van Andel said, will allow this area to leverage the existing research and clinical work at MSU, VARI, Spectrum Health and Saint Mary’s and help attract top tier scientists to West Michigan. It also will foster growth in federal research funding granted to partnering organizations in West Michigan. Furthermore, it will increase translational research in areas of clinical strength in this region and create opportunity for immediate research collaborations between partnering institutions, he said.

VARI’s financial underwriting will be used to fund MSU’s research at the Grand Rapids-based med school and to partially or fully support MSU researchers who will serve as med school faculty. According to the agreement, the scientists and researchers hired as faculty will be selected by the university in consultation with VARI and will be employed by MSU. Some may also be appointed to positions at the institute. The agreement calls for the university to lease office, research and structural lab space in VARI.

The institute and MSU will jointly apply for and share grants obtained at the state and national levels, Van Andel noted. They may also take on collaborative research projects supported by private or public funding.

As he explained, the biomedical research-intensive medical school will create an innovative molecular medicine curriculum that will include five research clusters: cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and neurobiology.

“One thing is clear, that for the 21st century — whether it’s education, health care, economic development or any other facet of our lives — it’s the partnerships and collaborations that will drive results,” said MSU President Lou Anna Simon. “Today MSU and the Van Andel Institute have signed an agreement, but more importantly we have signed a compact and have committed over the years our collective brain power, our collective creativity and our collective impact. Our futures are now inextricably intertwined. We are committed to ensure this vision becomes a reality.”

A key component of the partnership will be a business development office to handle technology transfer. Simon said part of the idea for the enterprise was that it be a model for tech transfer and product development.

VARI and MSU intend to hire five basic scientists, five clinical physician scientists and five population-based scientists, statisticians/epidemiologists over the first one to three years, and then hope to build the faculty to about 40 scientists by the time the school has been in operation five years.

Marsha Rappley, dean of MSU College of Human Medicine, said the university is in the process of interviewing candidates for its first class of students. The plan is to welcome 50 medical school students in 2008 and have the full four-year medical school in operation by 2010.

MSU signed a contractual agreement with Spectrum Health in April in which Spectrum agreed to invest $55 million in building support for the medical school plus an estimated $30 million over the next 10 years to boost research activities. MSU still has to complete contracts with Saint Mary’s Health Care and Grand Valley State University, the latter of which will not require a funding commitment, Rappley indicated.

As far as the location of the med school, Simon said that this week the university will narrow down all the sites that are being considered.

“We want the medical school to have a visible presence in a very striking building in a nearby location on a street that you will probably recognize,” she said.    

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