Case Studies

Ian McDermott – University Health Network

Prescribing new builds at a molecular level for a healthy future

The year 2005 was a significant one in Ian McDermott’s career—and in the lives of numerous cancer patients across the globe.

For the two years prior, he and his research facilities planning and safety team had been immersed in a $200 million project for a 388,600-square-foot, 15-story building, with 14 floors wholly dedicated to research. In September 2005, University Health Network’s Princess Margaret Cancer Research Tower in the MaRS Centre opened its doors in Toronto, Ontario.

Today, it houses 190 scientists, whose research contributes to the Canadian hospital’s nearly 1,000 annual publications in the field of oncology; topics range from cancer biology, genetics and immuno-oncology to protein structure, stem cells and supportive care.

Ian McDermott | Executive Director, Redevelopment and Chief Planning Officer | University Health Network

Ian McDermott | Executive Director, Redevelopment and Chief Planning Officer | University Health Network

In May 2023, McDermott proudly stated that the research tower is a key element of one of the top five cancer care sites in the world and the largest one in the country.

“It almost instantly became the blueprint for many other such local and global research facilities,” he says.

In the nearly two decades since he started planning this tower, he’s met with many people who’ve visited to gather more information to emulate not just its architecture but also the work conducted within its walls.

This year, the American weekly news magazine Newsweek ranked The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre as number nine on its list, “Best Specialized Hospitals 2022 – Oncology.”

As a man who began his career as a molecular biologist and molecular geneticist, McDermott has a unique perspective and insight into developing facilities that can create this type of global impact in healthcare. It’s why he hasn’t budged from UHN since joining it in 1997 as its director of research facilities.

He now holds the title of executive director of redevelopment and chief planning officer. He co-leads UHN’s Facilities Management – Planning, Redevelopment and Operations department.

“I am lucky that I am getting to see the fruits of my labor and not just at the Princess Margaret facility,” McDermott says. “Medical practices that were innovative and ground-breaking decades ago when we first started implementing them are now becoming standards of care.”

Radiating positivity 

One of McDermott’s ground-breaking decisions with the Princess Margaret Cancer Research Tower was daring to part with the tradition of a closed research model—think large collaborative labs equivalent to four or five traditional lab modules.

He collaborated with his team to create an open-space, “dance-floor style layout,” he says. Since then, this layout has become more commonplace in research hospitals and general labs across the globe, according to him.

Since then, he and his team have continued to innovate and help UHN explore new medical avenues. For the past two years, he’s led the charge, as his team spearheads the development and building of a Proton/Particle Therapy Facility.

He and many of the doctors and scientists at Princess Margaret, the Hospital for Sick Children and oncologists across Ontario are extremely enthusiastic about this project. This type of radiation is far more precise than traditional methods because it minimizes tissue damage and targets only the tumor.

Ian McDermott | Executive Director, Redevelopment and Chief Planning Officer | University Health Network

McDermott explains that this type of therapy, which as of May 2023 is still unavailable in Canada, is essential for children or patients whose tumors are located adjacent to vital organs.

By the end of May, he’ll have completed all the pre-planning steps. These include operational and functional plans as well as site logistics and construction phasing for the Proton/Particle Therapy Facility that will be part of a new campus. Working closely with the government of Ontario’s Ministry of Health, he’s hoping to receive full approval, so he, UHN and its Ontario oncology partners can move forward with this project. He’s aiming to have the facility open as soon as possible, hopefully by 2027.

“We are so thrilled to make this a reality for Canadian residents,” McDermott says. “It’s a true example of translating discovery and research to actionable medical processes and patient care.”

A prescription for planning

The Proton/Particle Therapy Facility is part of McDermott’s Integrated Facilities and Real Estate Master Plan. He started creating the plan in late 2018 and aims to implement it over the next 30 years at UHN.

He says that while creating such plans usually takes a minimum of three years, he and his team completed it in mid-2020. They realized UHN needed to expand in two main ways to cater to the increasing demand for healthcare due to demographic changes and disease prevalence across the country: a new campus in the downtown core and a new surgical in-patient tower at Toronto Western Hospital.

The new campus will be UHN’s 10th and will include 2 million square feet of patient care. It’s also where the center for Proton/Particle Therapy Facility will be located if the government approves the facility.

The second expansion project, is the in-patient tower. It will not only increase the number of critical and inpatient beds at TWH from 254 to 334 but will also have 20 operation rooms. According to McDermott, each OR will have state-of-the-art robotic capabilities.

Ian McDermott | Executive Director, Redevelopment and Chief Planning Officer | University Health Network

Three of these rooms will also have integrated imaging, so patients will no longer need to go first to imaging and then to the OR. In other instances, surgeons will be able to conduct and obtain immediate patient scans, even during an invasive procedure.

“It will streamline processes for our medical staff and professionals as well as our patients—and make the experience more comfortable and efficient for all involved,” says McDermott, who’s excited about breaking ground on the project this year and is hoping to open the tower’s doors by 2027.

Another part of his multi-pronged 30-year plan involves gradually increasing the number of total available beds from 1,300 to nearly 2,000. He and his team will also be working to grow the available space for research and patient care from 6 million to 10.5 million square feet. A third of the existing space will also be renovated.

“I’ve been here nearly three decades, and we’ve never stopped building and expanding,” McDermott says. “I love that I get to see how my past work is improving and helping innovate healthcare across the nation and the world—and that I am lucky to be able to positively impact the future with the work my team and I are currently doing at UHN.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VI 2023 Edition here.

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