Plans were already in the works for a new research laboratory on the Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Then the experience of living through a global pandemic convinced Mayo that there's no such thing as too much biomedical research.

So the clinic nearly tripled the size of the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Building, only the second dedicated research lab to be built in Rochester in the past 30 years.

The $120 million building will be financed through private donations, including a $49.3 million cornerstone gift from the New York-based Kellen Foundation. The Kellen family has a long history of generous donations to Mayo, where four generations of family members have been treated.

"Research is a key pillar of our … strategy," said Dr. Gianrico Farrugia, Mayo's president and chief executive. "We're committed to advancing more cures, connecting more patients to our expanded expertise and transforming health care for people everywhere. And that transformation starts with research."

The new research lab will be in "Discovery Square," a part of the Destination Medical Center (DMC) development in Rochester. DMC draws on $585 million in taxpayer funds to build infrastructure that supports private development in Rochester.

The law that created DMC does not allow public funds to go to Mayo Clinic itself, so the new project isn't eligible for taxpayer money.

The Kellen Building was originally planned at four stories, but the pandemic convinced Mayo that bigger would be better.

"The pandemic experience has demonstrated the need to grow and accelerate scientific advancements, and science is conducted in physical space," the clinic said in a statement.

It's an exciting time for medical research, said Dr. Y.S. Prakash, the clinic's chair of physiology and biomedical engineering. "This is our first opportunity to expand our research footprint on the Rochester campus," he said.

"These buildings are our shops, where we do the actual work. Without building the research labs and the workforce of the future, we cannot have the medicine of the future."

Renderings of the building show an unusual facade with irregularly spaced openings, called "oculi," scattered over the surface. The intent, Prakash said, is to connect the work inside the building to the life outside it.

"It is a window into what we do," he said. "Mayo has all these buildings, but nobody says, 'Hey, what is happening in these buildings?'

"It's a window into the exciting work we do there. And also for the people inside to look outside. It's a nice way to open up."

It's important for researchers to take the lead, to be proactive in discovering new fields of research, rather than reacting to current challenges, Prakash said.

"That's a different way of thinking," he said. "We're trying to be proactive and decide, how do we bring people together? The type of science, the collaboration, the type of ideas that will come from bringing people together will be enhanced.

"We can think really differently about how we do research, rather than just reacting to our needs."

There's one area that's sure to be a focus in the new lab, however. Mayo is renowned for its cancer research, and Prakash said he expects that will play a major role in the lab's work.

"But it's an opportunity to get into new areas and expand areas we're already good at," he said.

Construction on the Kellen Building is set to begin within weeks. Completion is expected by the end of 2023.

John Reinan • 612-673-7402