Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System Receives $25M for Precision Medicine

Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System has received a $25 million donation from developer Chris Jeffries and his wife, Lisa.
Chris Jeffries
Chris Jeffries and his wife Lisa have donated $25 million to Henry Ford Health System for precision medicine. Pictured is Tom Mikkelsen, medical director of the health system’s Precision Medicine Program. // Photo courtesy of Henry Ford Health System

Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System has received a $25 million donation from developer Chris Jeffries and his wife, Lisa.

The gift is the single largest from an individual in the system’s 105-year history and will accelerate growth and expansion for Henry Ford’s Precision Medicine Program and the ultimate goal of creating a precision health center.

The efforts will focus on the advancement of cancer research and treatment while expanding other medical specialties treating behavioral health and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

“We are incredibly grateful to Lisa and Chris Jeffries for their generosity,” says Wright Lassiter III, president and CEO of the 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.”

Henry Ford has studied and practiced precision medicine for years, creating targeted cancer treatments available at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute. The gift will bolster the system’s translational research, which allows lab discoveries to be translated into treatment.

“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,” says Dr. Adnan Munkarah, 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.”

Jeffries is a Flint native and co-founder of Millennium Partners, a national real estate development company that specializes in mixed-use, urban living, and entertainment centers. Chris Jeffries lost his father to brain cancer while Lisa Jeffries lost her stepfather to brain cancer.

“My dad, Gerald Jeffries, was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor more than 10 years ago and was treated at Henry Ford,” Jeffries says. “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 works to create personalized treatment plans that consider 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,” says Dr. Tom Mikkelsen, medical director of the Precision Medicine Program and Clinical Trials Office at Henry Ford. “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 as well as other conditions such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, depression, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and multiple sclerosis.

Dr. Steven Kalkanis, CEO of Henry Ford Medical Group, chief academic officer of Henry Ford, and the neurosurgeon who treated Jeffries’ father, and Mikkelsen, who also treated his father, were part of the group that led the expansion of cancer care services at Henry Ford, including the spearheading of the 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,” Kalkanis says. “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.”

Henry Ford is a $6 billion integrated health system comprised of six hospitals, a health plan, and more than 250 sites including medical centers, walk-in and urgent care clinics, pharmacy, eye care facilities, and other health care retail. It was established in 1915 by Henry Ford and now has 32,000 employees. It receives more than $90 million in research funding each year.