Breaking new ground: CMIT’s expansion keeps healthcare innovative

By Sean Green, sean@bizmagsb.com

The healthcare industry in northwest Louisiana is poised to take a major leap forward with the upcoming expansion of the Center for Molecular Imaging and Therapy (CMIT) in Shreveport.

Gov. John Bel Edwards joined Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins and BRF President and CEO Dr. John George April 5 to break ground on a $14.2 million expansion for the CMIT. Scheduled to open near the end of 2020, the new facility will be the first of its kind in Louisiana, with delivery of next-generation diagnostic, treatment and research techniques through advanced radiopharmaceuticals.   

Operated by BRF, CMIT is one of six business enterprises focused on healthcare, technology and innovation. CMIT focuses on diagnosis and therapy for chronic diseases, such as cancer, neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and endocrine abnormalities.

“To remain at the cutting edge of molecular imaging services and novel radiopharmaceutical production, we need to keep equipment and facilities that match our expertise and services. Under Dr. Pradeep Garg’s leadership, we will position CMIT at the forefront of this industry and continue its role as a resource for LSU Health Sciences Center Shreveport and other surrounding academic medical centers,” Dr. George said. “CMIT’s expansion puts our region in position to be a leader in the development of potentially profound treatments and the early diagnosis of illnesses such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. The possibilities are numerous, from novel radiopharmaceutical production to research to new treatment options, and Shreveport would be at the center of it all.”

The project will create 25 new direct jobs while retaining 18 existing CMIT jobs. The new direct jobs will provide an average annual salary of $60,000, plus benefits, and Louisiana Economic Development estimates the project will result in six new indirect jobs, for a total of more than 30 new jobs in northwest Louisiana.

Dr. George pointed out that BRF is an economic development organization. Since inception, BRF has been instrumental in creating or retaining 4,184 direct jobs with an average salary of $51,000. CMIT’s expansion will create approximately 25 new jobs with good salaries, and that’s in addition to the 18 individuals already employed at CMIT. The world-wide market for novel diagnostic and therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals is expected to reach $7.4 billion by 2024. 

“Northwest Louisiana will be a player in that,” Dr. George said.

Dr. George himself starts demolition on the future site of the CMIT building. (Sean Green/BIZ. Magazine)

“We are here to help Northwest Louisiana grow and thrive. Whether it’s through healthcare and biomedical research, technology, entrepreneurship, building a knowledge-based regional economy or other field, we will drive initiatives that keep our region at the forefront. We’re going to push the envelope in novel radiopharmaceuticals and many other areas,” he added.

CMIT is led by Dr. Garg, who has a 20-plus years background in molecular imaging research and in developing disease specific novel radiopharmaceuticals, having led programs at Yale, Wake Forest and Duke Universities. He came in to revive the imaging program, add a research arm, streamline operations and grow the program from where it was in 2012. He said this expansion is long overdue and the new CMIT is an endorsement of his vision.

“If there was no investment from the city, state and BRF, then we might go backwards. This is an endorsement of me and my team, and I’m pleased to see the support and commitment given to me.”

Dr. Garg says this expansion will create a new workflow in terms of new radiopharmaceuticals to target specific diseases, expand manufacturing capabilities, and add new people while encouraging new collaboration. 

“We will hire new people to fill new positions, which we could not have done without that investment,” he explained. “We will be hiring clinical trial nurses and a new study coordinator. So, it infuses professional, skill jobs into the community. It gives a reason for people to get new degrees and be a part of our program.”

The new CMIT will also act as an attractor for big and mid-size pharmas and venture capitalists to look at their inventory pipeline and collaborate with CMIT. 

While the economic benefits undoubtedly serve the area, the real goal is helping patients locally, and in the ArkLaTex.

“Now, they have to travel several states away. Having it in town, we can feed Louisiana and outside states. It really makes accessibility possible and helps healthcare move forward,” Dr. Garg noted. “It’s a larger impact, not just healthcare.”

He and his team have been working with big pharma for the last 30 years and that expertise has built a collaborative relationship with pharmaceutical companies, one that Dr. Garg hopes to expand upon.

“If someone has a good idea and good match with what we can offer, we can not only give access but we can guide them on the optimum way to move from point A to point B. It goes beyond just giving them the product, we do have expertise and that’s what the added value is.”

BRF is involved in many economic development initiatives, including workforce training. Outside of the biomedical field, there are plans for enhanced offerings from the Digital Media Institute at InterTech, and the Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program continues to see growth.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins unveil a rendering for the new CMIT building. (Sean Green/BIZ. Magazine)

“We have more improvements in mind for Shreveport’s Healthcare and Development Corridor as well,” Dr. George said.

The new CMIT and other BRF facilities are part of the Shreveport Healthcare and Development Corridor. Five years ago, consultant Tripp Umbach estimated the corridor would be home to 30,000 direct and indirect jobs and an annual economic impact estimated at nearly $5 billion by 2020. 

Major players in the corridor include Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport; Willis-Knighton Health System; Shriners Hospital for Children-Shreveport; the Feist-Weiller Cancer Center, which includes a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital affiliate clinic; and the InterTech Science Park. BRF and its InterTech tenants employ a combined 490 people. 

Dr. George noted that this was BRF’s fourth building building in the hospital corridor and pledged, “We’re not going to stop.”

“CMIT and BRF are committed to pioneering biomedical research innovation in our region and state,” George said. “Diversifying and growing our economy is BRF’s mission, and we believe this initiative will be a transformative piece of that mission. We appreciate the support of the governor and Louisiana Economic Development for this important project.”

Mayor Perkins thanked BRF for their impact and investment in the community, adding they are a vital part of the Shreveport health corridor.

In February, Mayor Perkins announced the formation of a board and the creation of a formal structure for fully harnessing the economic potential of the Shreveport Healthcare and Development Corridor.

“I am excited about the Center for Molecular Imaging and Therapy,” Perkins said. “The medical community is a critical part of Northwest Louisiana’s economy. This investment in the Shreveport Healthcare and Development Corridor brings both jobs and resources to Shreveport – and it brings them to a resource-deprived area. It grows our economy and improves healthcare in our city. It is a win for Shreveport.”

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