Lynne Terry, The Oregonian

Pumped up with more than $1 billion, Oregon Health & Science University scientists and government officials marked the groundbreaking Thursday of a hub they hope will help beat back cancer.

When completed, the Knight Cancer Institute’s research building will house state-of-the-art equipment and top scientists tasked with finding ways to detect cancer early to save lives. To celebrate that, top government officials and OHSU’s president and chief cancer researcher gathered Thursday at the site on the South Waterfront.

“We’re excited to bring all these researchers together and hire new people to work as a collaborative team,” Dr. Brian Druker, head of the Knight Cancer Institute, said beforehand in an email. “We’re most excited about the discoveries that are going to come from inside these walls.”

The state contributed $200 million for the construction projects, which is why Gov. Kate Brown, Senate President Peter Courtney, House Speaker Tina Kotek, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and mayor-elect Ted Wheeler participated in the groundbreaking ceremony.

The construction started earlier this month and is expected to last two years. The research building will sit on a block bounded by Southwest Moody Avenue and Meade Street.

The hub includes another building, the Center for Health & Healing South, also under construction on the South Waterfront. It will have a 14-story health care center and a 10-story mixed-use building with a patient guest house.

The research building will cost $160 million, paid by the state. The $40 million left over from the state will pay a part of the other building. That building will cost $349 million total, with the remainder paid by donations. The $1 billion raised last year will be devoted to early detection research, clinical trials, outreach and an endowment.

The $1 billion followed a $500 million challenge grant from Phil Knight, Nike’s co-founder. That money is more than any other academic center is spending on early detection research.

The building teams are using a collaborative approach that has architects, construction and project leaders working together to save time and money.

That same collaborative approach is central to the plans for the research building. It will house research programs focused on early detection, biological data experts and specialists in immuno-oncology with floors dedicated to research, labs, social hubs and administrative offices.

At the helm of the early detection work will be Sadik Esener, who starts July 1. A nanotechnology expert, he was recruited from the University of California at San Diego. Esener will be in charge of hiring 20 to 30 top scientists and their teams.

“To ensure a comprehensive approach, we require experts with knowledge in electronics, optics, biology and cancer,” he said in a statement. “This building will be ideal for carrying out team science.”