The year was 2017 and Doug Meijer was losing hope. In 2011, the retail executive from Grand Rapids had been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and the disease kept recurring despite treatment.
When his cancer journey began, he met Anthony Chang, a renowned scientist in a novel field called theranostics, who had just started BAMF Health in 2016 in Grand Rapids. He started the company from his living room, eventually moving into the Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building on Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile. Before that, he had been recruited by the Van Andel Institute in 2010 in Grand Rapids to create and lead a preclinical imaging center and translational imaging program in Grand Rapids.
Fueled by a spirit of entrepreneurism and frustrated at what he viewed as a less than proactive approach to treat cancer (especially aggressive forms), Chang launched BAMF Health, which stands for “Bold Advanced Medical Future,” to help patients more directly through breakthrough treatments.
In 2017, Chang heard about an effective and less invasive treatment method available in Germany, though not yet approved in America, that seemed to potentially address aggressive cancers, including prostate.
Meijer, whom Chang advised during his cancer journey, hails from one of the wealthiest families in Michigan: He is the third generation to run the Meijer company that his grandfather, Hendrik, started. The thriving retail-grocer was later headed by his late father, Frederick, who also ran it before Doug and his brother, Hank Meijer, did so. As a result, resources in his health battle weren’t a problem. Chang accompanied Meijer as he traveled to Zentralklinik Bad Berka hospital for theranostics therapy in Bad Berka, Germany.
Theranostics is the combination of a diagnosis and therapy to pinpoint the exact location of cancer cells and tumors without harming surrounding tissue, Chang said. Using a trace amount of radiation for therapy, the radiation travels to affected cells in the body and burns them out constantly for six weeks at a time without causing harmful side effects.
Meijer improved immediately and though not technically cancer-free (a patient is considered truly cancer-free once there is no reoccurrence for five straight years without having another round of therapy), he said he feels darn good today. Buoyed by good health, he wanted to help others facing cancer so they could have access to the same therapy. Hence, began his four-year journey with Chang to bring the therapy to Grand Rapids, where his family’s company headquarters is located.
BAMF Health opened its doors on its cancer treatment center July 27,  thanks in large part to Meijer’s $19.5 million fundraising effort. He donated, as did the Meijer Family Foundation. They teamed with Michigan State University, owner of the land, to build the Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building, located in the Medical Mile in the city’s downtown.
“The Meijer family has always been passionate about helping the community and health care and I am so thankful to be able to take that mission forward,” said Meijer, former co-chair and current board member of the privately held firm bearing his family’s name.
BAMF’s regulatory approvals allowed the company to begin administering Pluvicto Lutetium-177 therapy on Aug. 2, and it is now helping stage 4 prostate cancer and neuroendocrine tumor patients with its Total Body PET/CT technology combo, Chang told me. It is a molecular imaging process that identifies hard-to-spot cancer cells and tumors that conventional imaging might miss. The therapy then attacks those cells and tumors identified with molecular-targeted radioactive pharmaceuticals administered through a simple intravenous injection. Chang said the treatment is covered by insurance and Medicare-approved.
So far, BAMF has conducted over 200 therapies in its Grand Rapids center. Word of its efficiency has spread as most PET scans take 20 to 45 minutes, while BAMF’s takes just 1 to 3 minutes. It means a better patient experience, higher quality of images and information, and the center can also see more patients and offer quicker treatment.
“I feel energized every day to work with a group of passionate and talented people to realize this hope for the patients who need it,” said Chang. “I am also grateful for the support we received from the community, especially from Doug and the Meijer family. We want to bring more happy birthdays and holidays to our patients and their loved ones.”
“It just didn’t seem right,” Meijer told me as he talked about his desire to help others in their battle with cancer have access to the treatment he had received. “We live in the best country in the world and I was fortunate and blessed enough to have the means to go over to Germany to get cancer treatment, but the bulk of the population doesn’t.”
That trip was well worth it. “We headed to Germany, and with their technology they found four tumors in my upper chest which was causing the prostate cancer,” said Meijer. Those tumors were treated and neutralized, he said, adding has had no side effects from the four treatments he has received.
BAMF is initially focusing on prostate cancer, as it is one of the most common types of cancers. One in eight men over 65 will be diagnosed with it and it is the second leading cause of cancer death among men, according to the American Cancer Society.
While the company plans to expand across the country with Texas, Florida, and California all potential future locations, it also is pursuing putting its second facility in Detroit. Prostate cancer affects Black men disproportionately, which is why BAMF feels a Detroit clinic as its next center could be impactful.
“In Grand Rapids, we are a community asset and are partnering with every health system to help patients and conduct advanced clinical trials,”said Chad Bassett, BAMF Health chief operating officer. “Our goal in southeast Michigan is to reach out to a community that has been historically underrepresented in clinical trials for the most advanced medicine.”
BAMF Health is already making Michigan a medical tourism destination and a second facility in Detroit would only augment what appears to be a unique process to combating a debilitating disease. We certainly will be monitoring its progress.
Contact Carol Cain: 248-355-7126 or email@example.com. She is senior producer/host of “Michigan Matters,” which airs 8 a.m. Sundays on CBS 62.