Detroit — The Henry Ford Health System broke ground Tuesday afternoon on a 300-acre expansion to its campus.
The 187,000-square-foot Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion will be part of the Henry Ford Cancer Institute. It’s across from Henry Ford Hospital on West Grand Boulevard.
The building is named after Detroit businessman and philanthropist Mort Harris’ wife, Brigitte, who had pancreatic cancer before dying last year at the age of 81. She was treated for two years at Henry Ford Hospital.
The six-story building is expected to cost $155 million and open in early 2019.
On Dec. 5, Harris made a donation of $40 million: $20 million to the hospital’s cancer building project and $20 million toward precision medicine, brain cancer and pancreatic cancer.
It’s the largest financial investment in a medical facility in Detroit in the last 40 years, hospital officials said.
“We named today’s event ‘Building Hope’ and that means several things. We are building hope for cancer patients and their families. We’re also building hope for our neighborhood and our great city of Detroit,” said Dr. John Popovich Jr., president and CEO of Henry Ford Hospital.
Wright Lassiter III, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System, wore many ribbons to the event. He is a survivor of prostate cancer, his mother died in January 2014 of lung cancer, his mother-in-law died in February 2016 of ovarian cancer and currently, his father is being treated for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
“This is very personal for me. The first six months of my father’s cancer treatment, I wish that he had the benefits of precision medicine. He was being treated with a drug that — had his doctors known that he had a genetic modification that caused his chemotherapy to unexpectedly stop working — (they would have) him be reoriented to a new treatment,” Lassiter said.
The center will offer ambulatory cancer treatment, precision medicine, clinical trials and enhanced support services for cancer patients. The hospital has also partnered with Syapse, a leading precision medicine software company, to give patients options based on their DNA profiles.
Steven Kalkanis, medical director of Henry Ford Cancer Institute and chairman of Department of Neurosurgery, said they have outgrown their space and scientific breakthroughs in the last three years have required them to redesign the cancer institute entirely.
“Just a few years ago, it would be considered science fiction to simply order a blood test or genetic profile to see if a patient had a cancer that was months or even years too early on an imaging study and then to treat or cure it based on a genetic target,” Kalkanis said. “We now know that the drug of choice may not even be a specific cancer drug, but instead be a common medication that happens to share a molecular fingerprint.”
He said cancer isn’t one monolithic disease, but that it’s many different diseases, each requiring specific approaches.
“No two people and no two cancers are alike. With the development of our cancer precision program this type of therapy will now be a reality,” Kalkanis said.
Mort Harris has been a patient at Henry Ford Hospital for over nine decades. The ceremony took place on June 6 and coincides with the 73-year anniversary Harris served in World War II as a fighter pilot on D-Day.
“The most important thing to me was her everyday character,” Harris said of wife. “The depth, the humility, the humor, the kindness, the simple beauty of her presence will linger forever.”
Brigitte Harris’ daughter, Michele Becker, said her mother didn’t have any regrets and exuded hope.
“Although we are sad not to have Brigitte present among us anymore, helping her community, loving her family deeply and supporting many worthy causes, this legacy will carry her love and concern for forward as she continues to live on in our hearts,” Becker said.