On Aug. 28, 1946, a group of state leaders gathered at the Capitol. They were there to witness the Secretary of State of Oklahoma grant the charter of a new, nonprofit institute: the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
Sunday will mark the 65th anniversary of that event. But OMRF, which now counts more than 500,000 square feet of laboratory, clinical and support space on its Oklahoma City research campus, is not planning any pomp or circumstance to commemorate the milestone.
“It will be business as usual in our labs,” says OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “Just like every other day of the year, we’ll have scientists and technicians overseeing experiments and studying human disease.”
What began as a two-person operation has grown into an internationally recognized research institute. OMRF now employs nearly 500 staff members working to develop new ways to prevent and treat cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disorders and diseases of aging. Their discoveries have yielded more than 600 U.S. and international patents and three life-saving drugs.
“OMRF has established itself as a center of medical research excellence, particularly in the areas of immunology and cardiovascular biology,” said Prescott. But what also sets OMRF apart, he said, are its origins.
“Most of our peer institutes came about from the generosity of a single benefactor,” said Prescott. “OMRF, though, is the child of an entire state.”
To fund construction of OMRF, Gov. Roy J. Turner led a drive that spanned all 77 of the state’s counties. The state’s physicians organized one fundraising campaign, and pharmacists, dentists and nurses followed suit with their own efforts. When Gov. Turner declared a statewide “Research Week,” organizers held 137 meetings in 42 cities and towns during a seven-day period.
All told, 7,000 Oklahomans donated a total of $2.25 million to build laboratories and a research hospital.
The young foundation’s first research grant came from the American Cancer Society. It was for $31,000. Today, OMRF secures more than $30 million a year in competitive grants, ranking it among the top 15 among all members of the Association of Independent Research Institutes.
Earlier this year, OMRF opened the doors of its new research tower. The facility is home to dozens of new labs, the Samuel Roberts Noble Cardiovascular Institute and the OMRF Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence, a clinic that treats thousands of Oklahomans suffering from MS.
“Our scientists have already made discoveries OMRF’s founders could never have imagined,” said Prescott. “They’ve made breakthroughs in AIDS treatment, they’ve invented new drugs to treat deadly blood infections, and now their work is paving the way for the first generation of effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.”
“This new research tower allows us to add new scientists and expand the bounds of our research,” he said. “It’s an exciting time at OMRF, and one that no doubt will lead to new advances against human disease.”
When that next discovery comes, Prescott urges all state residents to take pride. “OMRF is more than a medical research foundation,” he said. “It’s Oklahoma’s Medical Research Foundation.”