DETROIT - Nationally-known developer Chris Jeffries and his wife Lisa have donated $25 million to Henry Ford Health System, the largest single gift from an individual in the health system's 105-year history. This historic gift will rapidly accelerate the growth and expansion of Henry Ford's Precision Medicine program, with the ultimate goal of creating a Precision Health Center. The efforts will have a robust focus on the advancement of cancer research and treatment, while also expanding to other medical specialties treating behavioral health, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.
"We are incredibly grateful to Lisa and Chris Jeffries for their generosity," said Wright Lassiter, III, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System. "We are experiencing a momentous era in medicine, a radical shift from the traditional approach to cancer care. This gift will help us consolidate and advance our collective efforts to create unprecedented access to advanced, highly personalized treatments for our patients and members."
For years, Henry Ford has been at the forefront of Precision Medicine, making world-class, targeted cancer treatments available at its national destination referral center, the Henry Ford Cancer Institute. This gift will significantly bolster Henry Ford's translational research, which allows the most innovative discoveries in the laboratory to be translated into new treatments for patients more quickly than ever before.
"Translational research is a significant differentiator of our clinical programs at Henry Ford and is a critical element to help us treat many of the most challenging conditions our patients face," said Adnan Munkarah, M.D., executive vice president and chief clinical officer of Henry Ford Health System. "Translational research is bench-to-bedside, meaning it allows patients to benefit from discoveries in real time. That is an essential part of our history and commitment to medicine and academics - not only offering the latest innovations in medicine, but also playing a leading role in their development."
Chris Jeffries, a Flint-native, is co-founder of the national real estate development company, Millennium Partners, which specializes in mixed-use, urban living and entertainment centers in Boston, San Francisco, Miami, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and New York. For Chris and his wife Lisa, the gift carries with it profound personal meaning, especially as it relates to cancer and everyone affected by the disease. Both have lost a family member to brain cancer - Chris lost his father, and Lisa, her stepfather.
"My dad, Gerald Jeffries, was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor more than 10 years ago and was treated at Henry Ford," Chris said. "He initially was thought to have only nine months to live, but Henry Ford's comprehensive approach to treatment and excellent care gave us five more years with him. That time meant so much to us - it's impossible to describe."
Henry Ford's commitment to Precision Medicine began with the belief that healthcare is not one-size-fits-all, meaning each patient needs a personalized treatment plan that considers individual variability in genetics, environment and lifestyle. Precision medicine is an approach to patient care that allows doctors to select treatments that are most likely to help patients based on a genetic understanding of their disease.
"By analyzing genetic and non-genetic factors, we can gain a better understanding of how a disease forms, progresses and can be treated in a specific patient," said Tom Mikkelsen, M.D., medical director of the Precision Medicine Program and Clinical Trials Office at Henry Ford Health System. "As of now, we can check for more than 500 genomic markers, which helps us understand the pattern of changes in a patient's tumor cells that influence how cancer grows and spreads. I'm confident this gift will lead to advancements that provide hope for patients with even the most complex diagnoses."
Doctors are using Precision Medicine to treat various types of cancer, including brain, lung, colon and pancreatic. It can also help with many other conditions, including cystic fibrosis, asthma, depression, heart disease, autoimmune diseases and multiple sclerosis.
Neurosurgeon Steven Kalkanis, M.D., CEO of Henry Ford Medical Group and Henry Ford's chief academic officer, along with Dr. Mikkelsen, was part of the team that treated Chris' father a more than a decade ago and led the expansion of cancer care services across Henry Ford Health System, including the spearheading of its Precision Medicine and molecular tumor board program for all cancer types.
"Even a decade ago, our approach to treating brain cancer was Precision Medicine before anyone knew what Precision Medicine was," Dr. Kalkanis said. "In the time since, we've seen a significant increase in the number of brain cancer patients who are outliving their prognoses, due in large part to clinical innovation. Our relentless pursuit of clinical breakthroughs has more momentum now than at any other point in history."
The momentum of cancer research is energized by the support of donors like Lisa and Chris, who give with the hope that cancer will one day be eradicated.
"The support of our donors is the fuel behind our clinical innovations and the breakthroughs that are improving people's lives," said Mary Jane Vogt, senior vice president and chief development officer at Henry Ford Health System. "It is remarkable to work with donors who believe in a better tomorrow and the power of a unified approach to medicine."
Chris and Lisa believe in the ability of Precision Medicine and Henry Ford Health System to achieve transformational advancements in cancer treatment.
"The team at Henry Ford is second to none," said Chris. "We believe this gift will lead to other families having more time together, as I had with my father. Defeating cancer requires a concerted effort from everyone and we hope to make as big an impact on that goal as possible."