Northern Virginia’s largest hospital system will announce Monday that it plans to acquire Exxon Mobil’s 117-acre campus in Merrifield to create a complex dedicated to what many view as a potential remedy for Northern Virginia’s sagging economy: genomics and personalized medicine.
Inova would use the property’s four office buildings, in a wooded area just off the Capital Beltway, to house a long-planned cancer center and a new research hub that would combine a medical school with laboratories and Inova’s high-profile Translational Medicine Institute.
J. Knox Singleton, Inova’s chief executive, said the hospital also wants to establish a cutting-edge facility aimed at drawing patients from around the country, akin to the prestigious Mayo Clinic.
Singleton said Inova wanted to form a campus capable of attracting the best genomics researchers in the United States and create “hundreds of millions of dollars of economic impact.”
“If you really want to attract world-class doctors and create global visibility, it sort of starts with having visibility and primacy of location in the Washington area, and we think this is probably one of the premier locations on the East Coast,” he said.
Acquiring the campus is the first step in a lengthy process to put all the pieces in place. Singleton anticipates spending years wooing donors and assembling the team. But the project is off to a good start. On Monday, along with the Exxon deal, Inova is preparing to announce the largest charitable gift it has ever received, a $10 million donation from the Peterson Family Foundation to recruit cancer specialists and support cancer care.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is looking for private-sector growth to replace the cuts and has made biotechnology a focus. The governor said that he spoke with Rex W. Tillerson, Exxon chairman and chief executive, to ensure that the sale went through. Exxon is vacating the campus this year as it relocates operations to Houston.
“We now can become the world’s center of the new genomics science and how you deal with cancer research,” McAuliffe said. “It’s going to take Inova — and much more broadly Virginia — right to the top of this industry.”
Inova has been trying to make a broader foray into personalized medicine for years, including a 2009 attempt at a $200 million genetics institute with then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and California geneticist Dietrich Stephan.
When that effort fizzled, Inova recruited John Niederhuber, a former director of the National Cancer Institute, to run the Inova Translational Medicine Institute, which analyzes reams of genetic data in the hope of developing predictive and preventive treatments. It recently added Donald L. Trump, chief of a cancer institute in Buffalo, to run its cancer institute.
The new effort comes as President Obama and others have begun talking about the potential benefits of personalized medicine. In his State of the Union speech last month, Obama said he wanted “the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine: one that delivers the right treatment at the right time.”
Singleton said the use of translational medicine to develop treatments for cancer and other diseases could be accelerated by taking advantage of Northern Virginia’s expertise in cloud computing and data analytics.
“The beauty of Northern Virginia is we’re building in sort of a greenfield when it comes to this personalized medicine, genomics research,” Singleton said. “But when you look at the big data and bioinformatics capacity, there are a ton of companies in Northern Virginia who are extremely sophisticated and well-advanced; they’ve just been working on cybersecurity or weather forecasting.”
Built as the headquarters for Mobil when it moved its domestic refining and marketing operations to Merrifield in 1980, the campus on Gallows Road is one of the most valuable properties in Northern Virginia, assessed by the county in 2014 at nearly $193 million. It is across the street from Inova’s flagship hospital, which will continue to operate there.
The 1.2 million square feet of offices on the Exxon site include more than 60 conference rooms, a 736-seat cafeteria, a gym, a swimming pool and a corporate boardroom. There are 2,580 parking spaces, most of them underground.
Inova, a nonprofit organization, expects to close on the purchase in the next five years and will lease the property in the meantime. Neither Inova nor Exxon officials disclosed the price, although Singleton said the site would be purchased with cash Inova has on hand.
Inova has major hurdles to clear to make Singleton’s vision for the Inova Center for Personalized Health a reality.
The longtime chief executive said he would like to raise $100 million to assemble a world-class team. The $10 million gift, from developer Milton V. Peterson and his daughter Lauren, includes $9 million to recruit cancer specialists. “The gift says to the whole community and any possible donors that this center is real,” Lauren E. Peterson said.
Still, Singleton has not yet struck a deal with a university or college to run a medical school, and although he plans to consolidate about 500,000 square feet of Inova operations from elsewhere, he was not sure yet whether it would retain its existing headquarters nearby.
McAuliffe said Virginia had not been asked for funding, and he did not expect to provide it. “This is all being done privately, which is great,” he said.
Gerald L. Gordon, chief executive of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, said he would “bet the house on the fact, that it’s a certainty, that they will be able to raise the financing.”
“There is no question in my mind that new discoveries will be made here and new companies will be created,” Gordon said.