Going Global

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital establishing itself as worldwide leader in fight against pediatric cancers

By Michael Waddell

(Memphis News Illustration)

Over the past two years, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has extended its global reach in a variety of ways, forging new partnerships and alliances to further research efforts for pediatric cancer and blood disorders while investing more than $1 billion to substantially grow its Memphis headquarters.

Even events like this week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic, a PGA Tour tournament that helps the hospital raise awareness internationally, will be getting a growth infusion beginning next year when it becomes one of the four prestigious World Golf Championships events.


The institution founded by Danny Thomas in 1962 has made great strides to extend the lives of children afflicted with cancer and serious blood diseases, touting an international team of doctors, researchers and scientists.

Now the institution is taking its leadership role a giant step further, placing itself at the center of all pediatric cancer research so children across the globe can benefit from its successes. And it’s putting its money where its heart is.

Last month, the research hospital announced it is creating St. Jude Global and will invest more than $100 million to help children around the world.

St. Jude president and CEO Dr. James Downing says St. Jude Global will focus on a “very ambitious goal” of improving pediatric cancer survival rates worldwide.  (Submitted)

“We’ll focus on a very ambitious goal of advancing survival rates for children across the globe no matter where they live,” St. Jude president and CEO Dr. James R. Downing said of launching the initiative. “When we look at other nations and we look at the survival rates for pediatric cancers and blood disorders, they are nowhere near as good as they are in developed countries.”


St. Jude has established partnerships in Brazil, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, the Philippines, and Venezuela, and has emerging relationships in regions such as Russia, Myanmar, Cambodia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Also last month, The World Health Organization designated St. Jude as its first WHO Collaborating Centre for Childhood Cancer. The designation represents a new push by both organizations to expand efforts that will advance pediatric cancer survival rates worldwide.

The FedEx St. Jude Classic’s conversion to a World Golf Championships event next year will open doors for new partnerships and donations across the globe. (Submitted)

"Although cure rates for many childhood cancers are above 80 percent in some parts of the world, the global cure rate for these diseases in developing or poorer countries can be as low as 10 percent," said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Together with St. Jude, we can close this staggering gap in curing childhood cancers, ensuring that all countries have the ability to effectively detect, diagnose and treat cancer in children and save the lives of many from cancer around the world."

More than 700 WHO collaborating centers are located throughout more than 80 countries.

St. Jude’s first global outreach initiative in childhood cancer began in 1993 with its International Outreach Program, and the effort touched an estimated 3 percent of children with cancer worldwide, encompassing 24 hospitals in 17 low- and middle-income countries. Now St. Jude Global hopes to grow that number to 30 percent within the next decade.


When the FedEx St. Jude Classic, which kicked off June 4 and runs to June 10 at TPC Southwind, becomes a World Golf Championships tournament beginning in 2019, the international makeup of the field of golfers who come to Memphis should broaden significantly.

The World Golf Championships – FedEx St. Jude Invitational will be one of the premier events on the PGA Tour, falling just behind the four Grand Slam major golf tournaments and the annual Players Championship.

For the invitation-only event, players will need to be ranked in the top 50 in the world or qualify by being a member of the current year’s Ryder Cup or President’s Cup teams.

The $412 million advanced research center is a major piece of St. Jude’s campus expansion. “It's a big investment in basic science ... that is happening in Memphis,” says St. Jude director of design and construction John Curran. (Submitted)

“This event is basically made for the top players in the world, so it will definitely have a different flavor as far as the makeup of the field,” said FedEx St. Jude Classic tournament director Darrell Smith. “We’re going to elevate the field and elevate the platform. There is hope that the field will improve greatly, and once that does it will be arguably one of the top six or seven events in the world.”

On the World Golf Championships schedule, the Memphis event will replace the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, played at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, in August. That event featured 49 of the top 50 golfers in the world last year, compared to nine of the top 50 in this year’s field for the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

In addition to putting Memphis on a world stage for a week, the WGC tournament will open doors for partnerships and donations for St. Jude across the globe.

“We’re always looking for new partners and new ways to drive revenue,” Smith said. “The awareness that we bring to St. Jude and the impact that it makes on the world is significant. It’s something that we take very seriously.”

New partnerships announced this year by St. Jude include with Lyft, NBA Cares, the Patrick Warburton Celebrity Golf Tournament, Cumulus Media and more.

St. Jude’s $412 million, advanced research center will house state-of-the-art labs focusing on a range of research topics. Hospital leaders hope to move into the eight-story building by April 2021.(Submitted)

Since 1970, the FedEx St. Jude Classic has raised more than $40 million to help fund St. Jude.

“I think the golf tournament over the last five to seven years has really looked at it as more than just golf,” Smith said. “We attract fans to our event that might not be the core hardcore golf fan. We’ve introduced new things involving food, music, and this year – fireworks. We’re always trying to talk to a new audience, and we’ve been very successful with that.”

Approximately 80,000 to 100,000 people are expected to attend the event this year at TPC Southwind.

“The future for professional golf in Memphis has never been brighter,” Smith said. “Our reach is going to broaden quite a bit, and we’re excited about those possibilities.”


As the hospital expands internationally, it is also growing the footprint of its campus headquarters in Memphis.

Demolition work has finished up for the construction of St. Jude’s new $412 million advanced research center, which was designed by The Crump Firm.

“We’ve knocked down the building that has been there since the 1950s,” said John Curran, St. Jude director of design and construction. “We’ve removed the slab and plan to lower the water table (by the end of next month)”

Flintco, which built the Research & Care Center and the Marlo Thomas Center at St. Jude, is the general contractor. Curran expects to be able to move facilities into the eight-story tower by April 2021.

Plans are also being worked out for 140 new units of patient housing, a new outpatient clinic and a much-needed clinical office.

Two buildings have already been demolished in the Pinch District to make way for the new patient housing, which will be west of the current campus of buildings. Designs for the project are being created by The Renaissance Group and must still be approved by the St. Jude board.

“It is envisioned to encompass an entire block, with a crosswalk connection to St. Jude so we don’t have to send our patients and families across Third Street,” said Curran, who hopes the project will be the first of many developments happening within a 10-block radius in the Pinch. “There really hasn’t been an investment in functional utilities in 60 to 70 years, so there’s a lot of infrastructure that needs to be brought up to speed for this to be developed in any kind of modern way.”

Once plans are approved, construction is expected to take around 21 months to complete.

A new office building also is needed to accommodate the hospital’s growing staff. With the announcement of the new St. Jude Global pediatric medicine initiative, space will be needed for its growth in years to come. That project is in the early planning stage.

“Really, one of the big choke points on the campus is that we do not have an office space for the 100 to 200 new employees that we add every year,” Curran said. “It’s becoming very, very hard to find new places for people to do their work or for programs to grow.”

New office space will be designed with a lot of places for collaboration to help spark conversations and ideas among colleagues.

“It’s a big investment in basic science for the future that is happening in Memphis, Tennessee, and at this staggering scale it’s something everybody in the city should be excited about,” Curran said.

With more international/global reach, St. Jude will have even more access to scientific research and brilliant minds across the world, improving the chances that discoveries of cures for cancer are more in reach than ever before.

“Are (all) governments going to prioritize childhood cancer research and treatment over any other thing under their control? Probably not, because kids don’t have a voice,” Curran said. “So it’s really important that St. Jude be the one that steps up and does it.”