The nation’s first research and innovation campus focused on children’s health is in the midst of a phased opening. Deemed a one-of-a-kind endeavor to transform pediatric research and health care, the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus in Washington, D.C., has been years in the making.

Leaders from Children’s National Hospital, Virginia Tech, and Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS detailed how unprecedented partnerships and a shared vision for the future were key to turning a decade-old dream into a reality during a panel discussion on Feb. 24 at the Healthcare Project Delivery Conference. The virtual meeting brought together more than 150 senior hospital administrators from more than 60 hospitals and health systems, as well as healthcare facility management professionals, healthcare construction leaders, designers and architects.

“The idea for the campus started with an impressive, unique vision to create a pediatric research and innovation ecosystem where we could work alongside best-in-class research partners like Virginia Tech and Johnson & Johnson Innovation to advance discovery, while also allowing Children’s National to expand clinically on the main campus,” said Children’s National president and chief executive officer, Kurt Newman. “It is our collective hope that the campus will accelerate the translation of breakthroughs into new treatments and technologies to benefit kids everywhere.”

The research partnership with Children’s National strategically triangulates the Virginia Tech’s billion-dollar investments in Southwest Virginia, the emerging Virginia Tech Innovation Campus in Alexandria, and now the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus in Washington, D.C.

“Fusing together strengths in cancer research, neuroscience, and computer engineering gives Virginia Tech a great opportunity to grow its physical presence in the D.C. area with a holistic purpose,” said Michael Friedlander, Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology, and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC’s executive director.

Friedlander has worked with Children’s National’s leadership for more than 25 years, and played a pivotal role in establishing the university’s footing on the Washington, D.C., campus.

Together, Virginia Tech and Children’s National launched an annual collaborative brain cancer pilot research program between the two institutions, as well as joint recruitment efforts for the first wave of Fralin Biomedical Research Institute faculty members to work in the campus’s state-of-the-art laboratories.

The 12-acre Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus, part of a 70-acre development that was formerly the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, will also become a hub for commercial innovation. In 2019, Johnson & Johnson Innovation and Children’s National collaboratively announced plans to launch JLABS @ Washington, DC, which aims to strengthen and expand the region’s network to attract the full breadth of science and technology innovators who are focused on developing transformative solutions to improve patients’ and consumers’ lives. The 32,000-square-foot life science incubator will house up to 50 start-up companies from across the pharmaceutical, medical device, consumer, and health technology sectors. 

Researchers at Children’s National and Virginia Tech alike will benefit from the opportunity to collaborate with entrepreneurs working at the incubator to commercialize discoveries made in the lab.

“What an incredible opportunity for our researchers who are committed to bringing discoveries out of the lab to benefit the public,” Friedlander said. “These partnerships have established a special opportunity that aligns very well with the university’s strategic plan to grow in health sciences innovation and commercialization.”

Newman and Sally Allain, head of JLABS @ Washington, DC, both commented on how important it was to have an academic partner of Virginia Tech’s stature as one of the new enterprise’s anchoring tenants.

Recruitment for the first wave of Virginia Tech researchers to work on the new campus has just begun. Construction is anticipated to be completed by summer, 2021.