Ohio State's Innovation District to Bring Groundbreaking Advances in Health Care

Advances in health care and other scientific disciplines at OSU’s new Innovation District are expected to create an explosion of high-tech solutions for medical challenges and other social ills.

TC Brown
Rendering of OSU West Campus

Three towering cranes with double booms have loomed over West Campus at Ohio State University for the past year. The construction signals the sky-high expectations for the novel, health-focused research activity that will soon be located there.

Twenty-five years ago, this type of high-tech bioscience campus wasn’t even a dream. By fall, though, construction was well underway for what you might call Silicon Valley East, but which Ohio State has dubbed the Innovation District.

If you sort through the technical jargon and design blueprints, what you’ll find are laboratories and medical facilities that will be using head-spinning scientific advancements that involve proton therapies that treat cancer, the manufacturing of gene therapies and so much more.

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For example, Andelyn Biosciences, an affiliate of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, will be located here. The company is the world leader in the production of viral vectors, which are tools scientists use to deliver genetic material into cells for therapy and to treat genetic disorders, says Mayo Pujols, CEO of the organization. (Andelyn is named after the first two child patients who received the pioneering treatment, Andrew and Evelyn.)

“We discovered you could replace the defective gene with a copy and prevent or stop a condition from getting worse and extend the life of patients,” Pujols says. He says the new location is perfect for the business and will give the company both the ability to expand its operations and to interact with other researchers and scientists.

Invention and Discovery

“You are going to get a hotbed of bright people coming together and that really attracted us,” Pujols says. “The clustered environment will be mixed-use development, private industry and multidisciplinary laboratories and companies in unique, innovative fields. That clinched it for us.”

Innovation and interaction are the key concepts for the entire Innovation District. OSU’s Interdisciplinary Research Facility will have interactive laboratories designed to remove spatial barriers and promote a more informal, open sharing of ideas and inquiry. It will include researchers in biomedical sciences, life sciences, engineering, environmental sciences and other disciplines.

The district, being built within the 270 acres of OSU’s West Campus, is designed to create a distinctive space to encourage academic and medical researchers, students and business leaders to share ideas and data that can spark new solutions to solve all manner of society’s ills.

Among those ills, and perhaps primary to them, is cancer. Wexner Medical Center Outpatient Care West Campus building is focused on cancer treatment. In partnership with Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the center will run Central Ohio’s first proton therapy treatment, an advanced form of cancer radiation care.

In addition to proton therapy at the Wexner Medical Center, the building will include operating and radiology rooms, an extended recovery unit, a pre-anesthesia center, a diagnostic imaging center, a pharmacy, a clinic dedicated to hematology and genital and urinary functions, and support spaces.

A Financial Commitment

Ohio State is expected to invest about $647 million initially for the project and infrastructure, which is in the first phase. It is likely to take 15 to 20 years for the district to reach its full potential, says Jay Kasey, Ohio State’s senior vice president of administration and planning.

“Calling these initial buildings anchors is probably too significant a term,” Kasey says. “Eventually there will be larger corporate entities moving in that will be true anchors. We want things clustered.”

Discussion is underway for future phases for the district, which could include apartments, office buildings, and additional research facilities. The idea is to foster more public-private partnerships for an environment where people can live, play and be inventive.

Jay Kasey, Ohio State’s senior vice president of administration and planning and Grace Wang, Ohio State’s executive vice president for research, innovation and knowledge at the construction site for the Innovation District.

Grace Wang, Ohio State’s executive vice president for research, innovation and knowledge, says the overall vision is to create a district that becomes a technical hub and lodestone for an assortment of disciplines.

“People will come to Ohio to interact with people from other sectors and that will serve as a talent magnet for the state,” she says. “That is the most leading benefit. Talent is the number one issue to drive economic growth.”

The Innovation District will also allow Ohio State to expand its own research efforts and develop any discoveries into more commercial enterprise opportunities, Wang says.

“We can translate technology into the marketplace,” she says. “When you have the best and brightest minds intellectually engaged, great things will happen. This is the time for OSU to look at the next 30 years as we develop this part of our campus.”

Jobs to Proliferate 

Government and corporate partners are joining OSU in creating the district, which is envisioned as a magnet to lure globally recognized educational, health care and technology research institutions. In turn, the labor and industries that emerge are expected to launch an explosive need for talent to fill in-demand jobs and funnel billions into the economy for Columbus and Ohio over the next 10 years.

The Innovation District offers a tremendous opportunity for cutting-edge businesses to be established and retained in the area, says Matt Englehart, the communication manager for JobsOhio, which provided $100 million toward the project.

“The district will [draw] innovative, high-growth companies from the private sector that provide high-paying jobs,” Englehart says. “The district aims to create more than 20,000 new jobs, [training ground for] more than 22,000 STEM graduates and $3.75 billion in investments.”

On the perimeter of health care, additional STEM projects will grow here. For example, the Energy Advancement and Innovation Center, dedicated to research and development of the next generation of smart energy systems.

The Energy Advancement and Innovation Center will be a hub for faculty, students, alumni and engineering researchers, local entrepreneurs and industry experts to work on smart and renewable energy and green mobility solutions. Ohio State has a 50-year contract with ENGIE to run the campus energy grid. The international energy company produces and manages non-carbon-based energy around the world and has committed $50 million to the innovation center.

Expectations for the entire project are elevated.

“We will build strategic partnerships in Columbus and attract businesses from across the country to do research and development and workforce development while providing opportunities for internships,” says OSU’s Wang.

Englehart from JobsOhio says development around the district will provide a quality of life attractive to young talent that will help create new generations of business.

“Intellectual property developed here will generate spinoff companies that we believe we can keep here in Ohio,” he says. “And the university will establish a pipeline of STEM talent that will be attractive to cutting-edge companies looking to invest here for the first time.”

Similar Innovation District projects are underway elsewhere in Ohio. In March 2020, the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center announced a partnership. In January 2021, the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, the MetroHealth Medical Center and University Hospital also announced a partnership.

The first phase in creating Ohio State University’s Innovation District includes construction of four buildings dedicated to research and entrepreneurship in the fields of health care, education and technology. Below is a summary of each.

Wexner Medical Center Outpatient Care West Campus

Size: 385,000 square feet with a 640-space parking garage

Cost: $348.8 million

Construction: Began July 2020

Expected opening: Outpatient center and garage April 2023 / Proton treatment center October 2023

Interdisciplinary Research Facility

Size: 305,000 square feet

Cost: $227.8 million

Construction: Began September 2020

Expected opening: June 2023

Andelyn Biosciences Center

Size: 185,000 square feet

Cost: $175 million

Construction: Began November 2020

Expected opening: Summer 2022

Energy Advancement and Innovation Center

Size: 66,000 square feet

Cost: $48.4 million

Construction: To be determined

Expected opening: Fall 2023

This story is from the 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly Health.