GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A medical startup aiming to start eradicating a patient’s cancer within hours of diagnostics is the first company to be backed by a Grand Rapids-based venture capital fund investing in minority-owned businesses.
New Community Transformation Fund announced this week that it is investing $500,000 in Bold Advanced Medical Future Health, which is building its first clinic and world headquarters at the Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building on Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile.
“It’s going to be a global company based in Grand Rapids. So this isn’t just a singular clinic or a small clinic. It’s the world’s most advanced radiopharmacy, world’s most advanced molecular imaging clinic, world’s most advanced theronostics clinic all started in Grand Rapids, but we’ll then go out throughout the country,” said Chad Bassett, chief operating officer of BAMF Health.
BAMF Health was founded by Dr. Anthony Chang, who previously worked in scientific research at nearby Van Andel Institute.
Chang founded BAMF Health in 2018. The company is investing $50 million into its facility and equipment at the new $90 million building on the northeast corner of Monroe Avenue and Michigan Street. The facility will feature clinic rooms, scanning rooms and theranostics treatment rooms so patients can get all the necessary care in one spot.
“The goal of this facility is literally trying to make this technology accesible and affordable to the patients,” Chang said.
BAMF Health’s offices will be located on the building’s seventh floor. The building also has research areas.
FINDING AND ERADICATING CANCER WITHIN HOURS
Chang said BAMF Health uses novel radiopharmaceuticals to flag and eliminate cancer in the body. Positron emission tomography, or PET, scanners then show where the cancer has been flagged in the body.
With end-of-stage cancers that have spread across the body, BAMF Health uses molecular targeted radiation therapy. The same radioactive drugs used to bind with the cancer cells to flag the disease are used for treatment, but BAMF Health swaps a diagnostic isotope with a therapeutic isotope.
“Meaning we swapped a camera with a bomb. And these types of drones come into a patient’s body, circulate over a body. Once they find prostate cancer, they’ll bind to it and start burning the tumor out nonstop, 24/7, for six weeks,” Chang explained. “Using this method, it will allow us to deliver over 50 times more radiation dose compared to conventional radiation therapy, but without hurting surrounding tissue.”
That means minimal side effects. Chang says patients typically only experience fatigue and possible vomiting.
Chang says the goal is to trace, scan and start eradicating cancer during a single visit to BAMF Health.
“We want it (so) everybody can have more happy birthdays, happy holidays with their loved ones. And that’s what I want to share with the community and with our patients,” Chang said.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR BAMF HEALTH
Chang says BAMF Health has already treated about 5,000 patients globally, including about 2,000 patients through clinical trials in Germany.
“Right now based on the latest studies, we can improve the patient’s survival rate up to 80% compared to the best drug we have right now to the worst patients we can have,” Chang said.
The diagnosis method was approved by the Food and Drug Administration more than a year ago, Chang says. The treatment has earned FDA approval as a breakthrough therapy for neuroendocrine tumors and Chang expects the treatment to be approved for prostate cancer “any day now.”
“We have 3 million prostate cancer patients living in the United States right now and they all need this new technology for diagnosis and for therapy,” Chang said.
In the future, Chang expects the method will be applied to diagnose and treat other cancers and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, endometriosis and cardiac disease.
“As a scientist, I saw a lot, a lot of cancer patients suffering through these kinds of uncertainties, suffering from (the) current trial-and-error method for cancer treatment, and that brings a lot of uncertainty and anxiety and frustration to the patients. It shouldn’t be this way. We do have the technology (to) allow us to do a better job,” he said. “A scientist’s job is not just staying in a lab to publish papers. Our job is making the technology to improve (a) patient’s life, improve the quality of life, to save lives… This is what makes me want to get onto this journey. This is the right thing to do. Somebody has to do it.”
Chang says the NCTF’s investment will go toward research and development, clinic improvements and preparing other sites for future expansion.
Bassett says they expect to build 10 to 20 of these facilities within three years, in partnership with top-notch academic medical centers and hospital systems. He said the network of clinics will speed up clinical studies, with a goal of bringing the drug development and approval process from 10 years down to two or three years.
Chang said they expect to break ground on a clinic at California’s Loma Linda University and another undisclosed site this year.
“We’re really excited to partner with Dr. Chang and his team as they look to change the world and how the world views disease, and no longer having some of these very serious diseases like cancer be a death sentence to folks that don’t have financial means or don’t have the capabilities of other folks to necessarily go out of the country or do something out of their budget to remain alive,” said Ollie Howie, founding managing director for NCTF.
“Once they heard about our project and we started to learn (more), I mean, our missions were aligned,” Chang said. “This means a lot to us. And I also think of this is not (only) showing the community support to our mission over here, but also show(ing) the whole world Grand Rapids is a great community to start a new business, high impact business.”
VENTURE CAPITAL FIRST FOR WEST MICHIGAN
The deal between BAMF Health and NCTF was finalized late last year, shortly after NCTF reached its goal of raising $10 million for its first round of investments in businesses owned by people of color.
NCTF is founded by Birgit Klohs, who said she was inspired to create West Michigan’s first venture capital firm to take a “demographic slant” after a “very intense” two-year diversity, equity and inclusion program chaired by Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and Grand Rapids Community College President Dr. Bill Pink.
“If I see an issue… what’s my core competencies? And those are helping companies grow. And why not do that in a demographic set sentence that really changes how our community invests and how companies can grow and to really change the trajectory of West Michigan as a place where a person of color can be successful,” Klohs told News 8.
Klohs said leaving economic development group The Right Place, Inc. last year after 33 years as president and CEO was a “rewirement,” not a retirement. She was already more than two years into her next venture: NCTF.
“It’s a passion because I do believe that unless we start creating sustainable multigenerational wealth-creating businesses in our community, we will have (diversity, equity and inclusion) conversations for many more years to come. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t have those conversations, but I want to be changing the trajectory of the region by investing in those kinds of businesses,” she said.
Klohs said market forces haven’t worked to erase inequities in business. While the region is home to a lot of minority-owned companies, there are “only about a dozen or so that are wealth creators,” meaning they have a product or service that is exported out of the community and draws new money back in.
And minority-owned companies aren’t getting as much support as other startups. Of the $136 billion the U.S. invested in venture capital in 2019, data showed more than 77% went to white entrepreneurs, according to Klohs.
“I think only about 1% or 2% went to African Americans, a few more to Hispanics, about 17% to Asians. So the answer is if that had been happening, then we would be having some of it and it didn’t happen,” she said.
“We don’t think that 78%, 80% of ideas are held by the majority population in America, but rather we all come up with amazing ingenuity,” Howie said.
NCTF will focus on businesses that are West Michigan-based, owned by people of color, entrepreneurs of color willing to relocate to West Michigan to grow their company and transitioning nonlocal companies willing to place an entrepreneur of color in an executive post.
“We have to have diverse teams. We have to have a C-suite, a founding group that is diverse, like the diverse team that founded NCTF. We think that ideas and ultimately companies get formed best when we are all able to come together and create together,” Howie, NCTF’s managing director, said. “And that’s the idea of the fund: to make sure that everyone is represented and that everyone has a chance of pursuing their dream, their passion, and that doesn’t get impeded by their skin color or their network.”
Klohs said investing in BAMF Health also brings Grand Rapids closer to a goal set by The Right Place to add private businesses to the research, health care and education happening on the Medical Mile.
BAMF Health’s radiopharmacy and research and development are already up and running. Construction is underway on the imaging and theranostics clinics, as well as the company offices. Chang expects the project to be complete this summer, with BAMF Health accepting its first patient sometime that same season.
NCTF’S NEXT INVESTMENT
NCTF plans to invest $250,000 to $500,00 each in startups within several industries, including advanced manufacturing, food and agribusiness, e-commerce and information technology and finance technology.
“Those are the industries that we pinpointed to say, ‘Hey, this is where Michigan is doing really well at.’ These are industries that we want to bring to Michigan and we want to make sure that Michigan has a strong community around,” said Howie.
Klohs and Howie said NCTF already has a healthy pipeline of budding businesses to potentially invest in.
Howie said the next investment will be in a financial technology company from Texas, which helps small businesses efficiently pay vendors.
“We’re really excited about bringing the team to West Michigan,” Howie said.
NCTF expects to announce who it is and how much it will get in late February or early March.
Howie expects NCTF to invest in about 10 to 16 businesses in the next two years. Klohs said the goal is to keep the fund running long-term with the generosity of investors including Bank of America, Gentex Corporation, Consumers Energy Foundation, the Wege Foundation, Spectrum Health Ventures, Mercantile Bank of Michigan, Horizon Bank, Rockford Construction, The Meijer Foundation, Wolverine Building Group, Brooks Capital Management, John Kennedy and Sid Jansma III.
Klohs said it’s that generosity that has kept her in Grand Rapids.
“I never saw really a reason not to continue to grow this community versus somewhere else because you can pick up the phone and somebody will return your phone call and help you. And that’s what always made this a very unique job for all those years,” she said.
NCTF is also working to set up a similar fund in Denver, Howie told the city of Grand Rapids’ Economic Development Project Team during its meeting last week.
“We hope to play a small part in this new way of thinking throughout the country,” Howie told News 8.