St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Announces Largest Strategic Expansion Targeting Pediatric Catastrophic Diseases Globally

April 27, 2021
MHE Staff

Six-year plan to invest $11.5 billion with donor support to accelerate research and treatment worldwide for children with catastrophic diseases.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is launching the largest strategic investment in its nearly 60-year history, committing $11.5 billion during the next six years to accelerate research and treatment globally for children with catastrophic diseases.

The Six-Year St. Jude Strategic Plan, approved March 25, 2021, by the St. Jude Board of Governors, focuses on the expansion of patient care and clinical and laboratory-based research related to pediatric catastrophic illnesses such as work in cancer, blood disorders, neurological diseases and infectious diseases.

The plan calls for an additional 1,400 jobs; the expenditure of $1.9 billion in new construction, renovation and capital needs; and the development of new research areas, according to a release by St. Jude.

"The plan is ambitious, and its goals are far-reaching," said James R. Downing, M.D., St. Jude president and CEO. "We're committing substantial resources to broaden scientific understanding, raise survival rates, improve quality of life, and connect researchers worldwide in the quest to find cures and save children with cancer and other deadly diseases."

This expansion builds on the research hospital's prior strategic plan, which at the time was the largest expansion in the institution's history and resulted in $7 billion in investments. Within the past six years, St. Jude has advanced fundamental, clinical and translational research, among its many milestones. Globally, access to quality care—once a dream for children in low- and middle-income countries—is beginning to be realized through its reimagined international outreach efforts that reach seven regions of the world. On campus, St. Jude accepted nearly 20% more new cancer patients; increased faculty by 30% and staff by 23%; and embarked on several large-scale construction projects, the release says.

The new plan continues this momentum by concentrating on five areas: fundamental science, childhood cancer, pediatric catastrophic diseases, global impact and workforce and workplace culture.

According to the release, highlights across these areas include:

Building a workforce to speed cures for children
Under the plan, St. Jude will hire nearly 70 new faculty members, plus supporting laboratory staff, to work in basic, translational and clinical research across 22 departments. These investigators will have the freedom to pursue the type of conceptually driven research that leads to tomorrow's clinical advances.

Investing in the intersection of science and technology
During the next six years, St. Jude will invest more than $250 million to expand state-of-the-art technology and resources available to scientists and clinicians in their search to understand why pediatric catastrophic diseases arise, spread and resist treatments. These investments will include:

  • Creating a Cryo-Electron Tomography Center to determine the atomic structure of molecules in their native states within human cells.
  • Establishing a Center of Excellence in Advanced Microscopy to build the next generation of microscopes that explore cells in ways previously unimaginable.
  • Expanding data science staff and the digital infrastructure necessary to become a world leader in the application of data science to biological discovery in normal and disease states.

Creating a brighter future for children with cancer
St. Jude will invest $3.7 billion during the next six years to expand cancer-focused research and related clinical care. These efforts will center on raising survival rates for the highest-risk cancers and for children with relapsed diseases, while simultaneously improving quality of life for pediatric cancer survivors. The investments will include:

  • Accelerating preclinical and clinical testing of new therapeutic agents so the most promising agents can rapidly move from clinical investigation to standard of care.
  • Expanding large-scale, collaborative trials to reach more childhood cancer patients across the U.S. and around the world.
  • Creating a new Translational Immunology and Immunotherapy Initiative (TI3)—an inter-departmental collaboration focused on expanding the use of cellular-based cancer immunotherapy as curative treatments for pediatric solid tumors and brain tumors.

Finding cures and saving children everywhere
In the U.S., more than 80% of children diagnosed with cancer will be cured. In contrast, 80% of children with cancer live in limited-resource countries, where a mere 20% survive their disease. To address this, St. Jude will more than triple its investment in its international efforts coordinated through St. Jude Global and the St. Jude Global Alliance during the next six years. This represents an investment of more than $470 million. Global initiatives include:

  • Expanding educational programs to train the workforce needed to treat childhood cancer worldwide; strengthening the health care systems required to deliver that care; and bolstering regional and global programs to create the research infrastructure necessary to continually improve the quality of care in resource-limited settings.
  • Creating seven international operational hubs staffed by St. Jude workers to effectively manage the St. Jude Global Alliance, a network of more than 140 institutions across 50-plus countries.
  • Developing a multimillion-dollar Pediatric Cancer Global Drug Access Program—in collaboration with World Health Organization, other U.N. agencies and international organizations—to distribute an uninterrupted supply of anti-cancer drugs for childhood cancer treatment in low- and middle-income countries.

Beyond cancer: Investing in other pediatric catastrophic diseases
Under the plan, St. Jude will expand research and treatment programs to advance cures for childhood catastrophic diseases. The $1.1 billion, six-year investment includes work in nonmalignant diseases, such as sickle cell disease; a new laboratory-based research program in infectious diseases that affect children worldwide; and a new research and clinical program to better understand and treat pediatric neurological diseases..

Fostering a culture and environment that propel progress
The plan outlines several strategies to ensure St. Jude remains a place where teamwork flourishes; internal and external collaboration thrives; and employees can make a difference in the lives of children. These will include:

  • Expanding the St. Jude Research Collaboratives program from funding five to 11 teams of scientists worldwide through a more than $100 million investment
  • Enriching future biomedical research pipelines for potential employees by creating experiences for high school and college students in science.
  • Expanding the established St. Jude blue-sky process, which solicits mission-related, game-changing ideas outside of the strategic plan, by $180 million
  • Building and supporting best-in-class environments that help employees advance the institution's life-saving work and offer patients and their families a home away from home.
  • The $1.3 billion in new construction and renovations will include completion of The Domino's Village, a family housing facility with one-, two- and three-bedroom units; Family Commons, a quality of life space with patient family services from school to tech support; and the Advanced Research Center—and construction of outpatient, clinical office and administrative buildings and parking garages.

The multi-phase expansion plan is fueled almost entirely by steadily increasing donor contributions generated by ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude.

"We are making our biggest financial investment ever—during a pandemic—because the public, our donors, have demonstrated their commitment to us," said Richard C. Shadyac Jr., ALSAC president and CEO. "It's an incredible display of loyalty and purpose, and the power of people coming together to help the most vulnerable in our society: sick children."

Private fundraising conducted by ALSAC is the organization's lifeline because pediatric cancer research typically receives a disproportionately low share of government research dollars. Of the approximately $6 billion distributed annually by the National Cancer Institute, only an estimated 4% targets pediatric cancers. It is estimated that 87% of funds to sustain and grow St. Jude over the next six years will come from public donations. The St. Jude model intends patients never receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing or food.

"As we move forward with this strategic plan, our mission—to advance cures and means of prevention for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment—remains at the forefront of everything we do," Downing said. "The mission serves as our compass, and the plan serves as our guide for the journey ahead."