SEATTLE, Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, a world leader in lifesaving research to prevent, detect and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other deadly diseases, announced today that it has named an internationally renowned expert in cancer genetics and precision medicine as its new president and director. D. Gary Gilliland, M.D., Ph.D., a physician-scientist with a background in academic medicine and the pharmaceutical industry, will take the helm as Fred Hutch's new leader on Jan. 2.
Gilliland comes to Fred Hutch from the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine where he was the vice president of precision medicine. Prior to that he was an executive at Merck Research Laboratories and also spent more than 20 years at Harvard Medical School, where he was a professor of medicine and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Gilliland has made seminal discoveries that have shed light on the genetic basis of leukemias and other blood cancers. His work has led to the development of new investigational cancer treatments, including precise, molecularly targeted therapies tailored to the unique characteristics of each patient's tumor.
He is deeply familiar with Fred Hutch's innovative research in the areas of immunotherapy, personalized medicine, bone marrow transplantation and more, so when he was tapped for the position, he said he couldn't resist.
"It feels like coming home," he said. "It feels like I've been preparing my entire life for this job. This is the perfect time and perfect place and opportunity to truly target cures for cancer. Everything I've done in my career has pointed here."
Paula Reynolds, chair of Fred Hutch's board of trustees, said the search committee knew Gilliland was an ideal fit from the first meeting, noting his exceptional scientific discoveries, his diverse leadership experience and the patient-centered approach for which he is known.
"Scientific breakthroughs are born at Fred Hutch. Under Gary's leadership, we have a unique opportunity; our research will translate to more cures for patients not just in the region but across the globe," she said.
Fred Appelbaum, M.D., deputy director of Fred Hutch, who has known Gilliland for more than 25 years, said he couldn't be happier about the new president and director.
"Gary is a really wonderful scientist who thinks deeply about problems, comes up with ideas and a hypothesis before anyone else does, and has tech know-how," he said.
Gilliland spent two decades on the faculty at Harvard University, where he was also a professor of stem cell and regenerative biology. He also directed the leukemia program at Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, among other prestigious posts.
The bulk of his work at Harvard focused on the genetic basis of blood cancers. "I spent 20 years in the lab at Harvardidentifying genes. In 1985 there was one gene. Now there are hundreds," he said of the DNA-cancer connection.
"Some of Gary's greatest accomplishments include helping us to understand the molecular basis of acute myeloid leukemia," Appelbaum said. That work laid the foundation for developing new targeted molecular treatments for AML and for novel approaches to the treatment of solid tumors.
In 2009, Gilliland left Harvard to serve as senior vice president and head of the oncology franchise at Merck, where he leveraged his expertise in cancer genetics to help pioneer targeted therapies in solid tumors. In particular, he focused his attention on immunotherapeutic approaches to all cancers that offer the potential for cures.
"Gary has a tremendous passion and commitment for all that is exciting about great science," said Kenneth Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck. "He is a distinguished scientist and effective leader who cares deeply about patients and their care."
Building on Fred Hutch's pioneering work in immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system to fight cancer, Gilliland says his goal, quite simply, is for the Hutch to lead the way in transforming not just blood cancers but all solid tumors from melanoma to kidney to lung cancers into diseases that can be eradicated without the harmful side effects of standard therapy.
"At the Hutch, our goal is to cure cancer, not simply to treat cancer," he said. "We envision a day when we can eradicate cancer by combining conventional approaches to treatment with novel immunotherapeutic agents."
Given Fred Hutch's strengths in global infectious disease research, with outposts in Uganda and South Africa, Gilliland also is hopeful that immunotherapy can be successfully applied against a host of diseases that are caused by viruses, from hepatitis C to Burkitt lymphoma and other infectious disease-related cancers, which account for about a quarter of all malignancies worldwide.
Mark Groudine, M.D., Ph.D., acting president and director of Fred Hutch, noted Gilliland's vast experience. "Gary is an excellent scientist who early on made seminal discoveries regarding the molecular basis of leukemias. He has remarkable breadth he is a highly respected scientist and, before leaving for his leadership position at Merck, was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Harvard. He has strong interests and expertise in immunotherapy and its application to a broad spectrum of cancers, as well as precision medicine two areas that are of extreme importance to Fred Hutch," he said. "He's the ideal candidate to lead Fred Hutch. We feel very fortunate that Gary will be joining us."
In 2013, Gilliland returned to academia when he joined the faculty of Penn Medicine, where, as vice president for precision medicine, he worked to bring together research and clinical care initiatives across disciplines to create a model for delivering personalized medicine to patients with a range of conditions, from cancer to heart disease.
At Fred Hutch, Gilliland aims to continue focusing on the development of highly targeted cancer therapies, working closely with colleagues at the University of Washington. "I am thrilled that Gary will be at the helm of Fred Hutch," said Paul Ramsey, M.D., CEO of UW Medicine. "He has a clear vision, a deep passion for patients and is a bold leader. I'm looking forward to working closely with him toward our mutual goals of better treatments for patients."
"Gary is regarded among the nation's most pre-eminent scientists in understanding the molecular drivers of cancer," saidBrian J. Druker, M.D., director of Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University. "[He] is a man of unquestionable integrity who has an exceptional record of scientific discoveries, impactful publications and groundbreaking research investigations."
Gilliland has received many honors and awards for his academic research, including the William Dameshek Prize from the American Society of Hematology, the Emil J. Freireich Award from the MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Stanley J. Korsmeyer Award from the American Society for Clinical Investigation, of which he is an elected member. He is also an elected member of the American Association of Physicians.
Gilliland received his Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and his M.D. from the University of California, San Francisco. He completed his training in internal medicine, hematology and medical oncology at the Brigham and Women's Hospital and at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, all at Harvard Medical School.
He will become the fifth president and director in Fred Hutch's nearly 40-year history. He is preceded by Lawrence Corey, M.D.; Nobel laureate Lee Hartwell, Ph.D.; Robert Day, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H.; and Fred Hutch founder William Hutchinson, M.D. For more information about Fred Hutch's past leaders, click here.
At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home to three Nobel laureates, interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists seek new and innovative ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. Fred Hutch's pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation led to the development of immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system to treat cancer with minimal side effects. An independent, nonprofit research institute based in Seattle, Fred Hutch houses the nation's first and largest cancer prevention research program, as well as the clinical coordinating center of the Women's Health Initiative and the international headquarters of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. Private contributions are essential for enabling Fred Hutch scientists to explore novel research opportunities that lead to important medical breakthroughs. For more information visit fredhutch.org or follow Fred Hutch on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.
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