U.S children are four times more likely to survive childhood cancer today than when St. Jude Children's Research Hospital opened in 1962 on a mission to end the deadly disease.
The earliest patients faced grim odds: only one in five survived.
Today, those odds are reversed: one in five dies.
And while I'm proud of those spectacular gains, you’ll not see me celebrate them because too many young patients are still stricken by cancer and third-world survival rates lag woefully behind. It’s why we're doubling down on our visionary founder Danny Thomas’ mission through a six-year, multi-billion plan that he could never have envisioned, but give light to his dreams.
Even from the earliest days of St. Jude, it's been inarguable that even one child dying from cancer is unacceptable. Ask any mother or father who has lost their child, and you'll understand the devastation and hope for a different future. It's why the St. Jude 2021 strategic plan is so critical. We have a compact with our incredible donors to do more.
We're investing significantly to treat more patients and accelerate research at St. Jude. With incredible support from donors from every background in the world, and with money in the bank we've carefully invested and grown, we're in a unique position to treat more children and focus on the toughest cases through broadened research. The multi-billion dollar expansion is evidence we're more committed than ever to our founder's heartfelt belief that "no child should die in the dawn of life" because of a lack of financial resources or access to the best treatment.
St. Jude accepts insurance, and many of our researchers are funded with prestigious grants, but it's important you know approximately 75 percent of the hospital's nearly $1 billion operating budget must be raised by ALSAC from generous donors. Those donations pay for treatment and research that wouldn't be done otherwise and are directly responsible for unimaginable scientific advances that have saved so many children.
But even as inspiring as it is to see the immense impact of our unique, donor-driven operating model, it's equally deflating to know – and I’ve seen this firsthand – that children around the world are dying because treatment of childhood cancer in the third world trails decades behind.
More than 80 percent of children with cancer live in low and middle income countries and a majority will die from their illnesses. I hope you'll read that sentence again. We can't accept that a child who comes to our Memphis campus can possibly be saved when one in a poor country halfway around the world faces untenable odds. Think about it this way: global survival rates look far too much like the U.S. rate when St. Jude opened in Memphis 55 years ago.
The St. Jude 2021 plan intensifies efforts, globally, to train more doctors, nurses and families; collaborate and grow treatment networks; and, importantly, share what we already know about the most effective treatment regimens. We're investing heavily in a global plan to share knowledge, technology and best practices. It's unthinkable to do otherwise when by simply sharing what we know about cancer and other life-threatening diseases, and supporting healthcare collaborations around the world, we can impact progress and help save millions of children in the decades ahead.
No one describes the unique position and clear focus of St. Jude better than its CEO, Dr. James Downing.
"Who’s going to step up and accelerate progress?" I hear him ask repeatedly, challenging his staff of world class physicians and researchers. "Who’s going to mobilize the world? We think St. Jude – with the support of our donors – can do it better than anyone."
You'll be hearing a lot about our current and future plans because donors deserve to know how we're spending their money. Our patients, and their families, need to know we're steadfast in our commitment to end this disease as Danny Thomas boldly dreamed.
During my tenure at ALSAC, we've greatly increased the pace of fundraising so no need at the hospital is unmet. It's enabled us to employ so many experts, physicians and researchers from around the world, and install extraordinarily expensive, pace-setting technology that is fueling discoveries and helping save lives.
But we've also invested wisely to fund this massive new initiative. I suspect our approach to money management has been very much like that of our core donors who put money aside for future needs and not run up their credit cards. We have enough money in our investment portfolio, our reserve fund, savings account, to sustain hospital operations in the event of an economic emergency or other disaster.
St Jude is unique. Treatment regimens for some types of cancer stretch for years and we've committed to cover the costs of those treatments without ever sending the family a bill. To do that just for our current patients is a nearly $1 billion commitment. That money in the bank, the money donors so generously contributed and we grew by investing it, guarantees their care when they need us most.
But our reserves also allow us to expand so aggressively. We’ll be adding more researchers and medical staff to enhance treatment – we see approximately 8,500 patients per year – conduct significantly more clinical trials here and abroad, and accelerate critical research. Annual operating expenses, alone, will increase more than 40 percent by 2021.
Because we'll be treating 15 percent more children by 2021, we plan to break ground next year on a 140-unit, housing complex to accommodate more families. The price tag on that project, alone, is estimated to be $60 million based on board approval. It's part of more than $1.2 billion in new construction focused on patient care and research, including St. Jude's single largest project ever – a research center that could cost more than $400 million, breaking ground in 2018 upon the board's final approval.
The size and scope of this expansion can seem overwhelming for an organization with such humble beginnings. More than a billion dollars in new construction. Billions more to operate the hospital in the coming decade. But, frankly, there's only one number that you need remember: 1 in 5 children diagnosed with cancer in America still die.
Far too many more die around the world.
We have to do more.
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