UChicago Medicine breaks ground on state’s first freestanding cancer center

Chicago mayor, other leaders gather to celebrate $815 million South Side project

The University of Chicago Medicine broke ground on its $815 million project to build the state’s first standalone structure dedicated to cancer care and research. The 575,000-square-foot, seven-story pavilion builds on the University of Chicago’s decades of work and leadership in cancer research and its prestigious designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Sept. 19 event included remarks from Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, Attorney General Kwame Raoul and University of Chicago and health system leaders. It also featured performances by the Chicago Mass Choir and a ceremonial bell ringing that evoked the long-standing patient tradition that marks the end of successful oncology treatments.

The academic health system seeks to dramatically improve the experience for patients with cancer, reduce health disparities in underserved communities and speed up scientific discoveries through the freestanding pavilion, which will be built on its flagship campus in the Hyde Park neighborhood on the South Side.

“This project represents our latest bold move to make an even bigger difference in cancer care and research,” said Tom Jackiewicz, president of the University of Chicago Health System. “This new pavilion will advance scientific discovery so that we can find cures, shape the future of oncology care and treatment, and reduce the cancer burden in the communities that we serve.”

Expected to open to patients in spring 2027, the building will allow UChicago Medicine’s nationally recognized clinicians, physician-scientists and researchers to better collaborate with colleagues across the University of Chicago. The team of more than 200 people currently works in more than five different buildings on the Hyde Park campus. The new facility will be the central point of cancer research efforts, new therapy development, clinical advancements and other discoveries.

“My colleagues and I are determined to make a bigger impact in the field of cancer through the work we do at this new facility,” said Kunle Odunsi, director of the UChicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center. “We will leverage our location on the University of Chicago campus and our 49-year status as a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center and newest member of the prestigious National Comprehensive Cancer Network to answer cancer’s hardest questions, bring new therapies from discovery to patients, deliver the care our community needs and, ultimately, save lives.”

UChicago Medicine is one of 72 hospitals in the U.S. and one of only two in Illinois designated by the National Cancer Institute as delivering cutting-edge cancer care to patients in its communities. The “Comprehensive” distinction is the gold standard for cancer programs bestowed by the NCI and recognizes the innovative research, leading-edge treatments, and extensive community outreach and education initiatives conducted at or by the organization.

Cancer rates climbing 

The building, which includes 80 inpatient beds, 90 outpatient exam rooms and dedicated imaging, infusion and clinical trial spaces, comes as the incidence of cancer increases nationwide. The CDC estimates cancer rates will grow by 49% between 2015 and 2050 in the U.S. The numbers are even more daunting on the South Side, where cancer rates are expected to climb 19% in the next decade alone, compared with 9% in the rest of the Chicago area. South Side residents are twice as likely to die from cancer as people living in the rest of the country.

To address these disparities, UChicago Medicine’s new pavilion will bring more resources to the South Side.

We know inequities in the burden of cancer are largely driven by the social determinants of health that impact access to cancer prevention, early detection and timely quality care,” said Nita Karnik Lee, associate director of the UChicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center Office of Community Engagement and Cancer Health Equity. “Through longstanding and new partnerships with community organizations and health centers, we hope to address disparities along the entire cancer continuum. This will include a focus on navigation to increase access to care including screening and clinical trials, and a particular focus on cancer prevention, wellness and support through exciting new community spaces that will offer cooking classes, support groups, music therapy and fitness classes.”

The new building’s additional inpatient beds will allow UChicago Medicine to open other rooms for patients with complex or acute care needs in areas such as organ transplants, digestive diseases, cardiology, orthopedics and trauma care. This, in turn, will help address some of the capacity constraints for the medical center, whose beds are full most days of the year.

Innovative building design

Among the unique features of the new cancer care and research pavilion:

  • It will streamline access to diagnostic and treatment innovations, which will help to bring clinical trials to historically underrepresented populations.
  • It will leverage advances in emerging areas of research, such as cancer metabolomics, as well as the latest approaches in big data and artificial intelligence to better diagnose and personalize cancer treatment.
  • Its researchers can expand and expedite the on-campus “molecule to medicine” therapy development pipeline by working with partners at UChicago’s Pritzker School for Molecular Engineering and Argonne National Laboratory.
  • It will house a suite of support services for patients and their families, from cancer screenings to lifestyle classes, nutrition education, survivor support, music therapy, fitness classes and a retail store selling cancer-specific products, such as wigs or clothing with openings for ports.

The new facility and its community-focused programs were conceived following an extensive master design process using feedback from hundreds of key stakeholders, patients and neighbors. The building proposal was approved by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board in June 2023. Key partners in the project include architect CannonDesign and Turner Construction, both of which are working with diverse firms to build the pavilion.

In addition to its role in tackling health inequity, the project will be an important driver for economic vitality on the South Side. Involving more than 500 construction jobs, at least 41% of the contract construction dollars will go to minority- and women-owned firms. There will be onsite minority and female worker goals, to ensure a diverse construction workforce, along with Chicago residency goals. 

Cancer survivor Candace Henley, chair of UChicago Medicine's Community Advisory Council, told attendees how she faced homelessness and a lack of resources during her cancer journey 20 years ago.

"This hospital is allowing those of us who have felt invisible to now be seen, to now have access, to now have resources and state-of-the-art care. And it’s in the middle of the South Side of Chicago, where health disparities have been great," she said during the ceremony. "All of us deserve the best opportunity to fight for our lives."

This story was adapted from the UChicago Medicine website