Spotlight on Larry Corey

At the forefront of global vaccine research

Larry Corey, virologist and Fred Hutch past president and director

For more than four decades, Dr. Larry Corey has led some of the most significant advances in medicine, including the development of safe and effective antivirals for herpes, HIV and hepatitis infections. As president and director of Fred Hutch from 2011-2014, he helped drive lifesaving discoveries across an even broader spectrum of diseases. An international expert in the design and testing of vaccines, he is helping to formulate a global, strategic response to COVID-19.

In 2020 he responded to the sudden emergence of COVID-19 by redirecting his energies to speed the development of antiviral medications and vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the pandemic. He is building strategic collaborations among academic institutions, government health leaders and the pharmaceutical industry to test future COVID-19 vaccines and find ways to manufacture and distribute enough doses to immunize as many as 4 billion people.

He is drawing on his expertise as a co-founder, in 1998, of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. Headquartered at Fred Hutch in Seattle, it is the world’s largest publicly funded collaboration focused on development of vaccines to prevent HIV/AIDS.

“COVID-19 is a re-living of what happened 39 years ago in HIV, when it was difficult and frustrating,” he said. “The lesson that we learned then is that when the academic, biotech and pharmaceutical communities put their collective scientific assets together, things happen.

“Science is about resilience,” Corey added. “You have to have optimism, resilience and perseverance.”

Corey made his first major discovery in the early 1980s when he demonstrated the effectiveness of the world’s first antiviral therapy (acyclovir) for the treatment of genital herpes. Working in collaboration with Dr. Gertrude Elion — the inventor of acyclovir at Burroughs-Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline) — Corey was the first to give patients oral antivirals for an extended time safely and effectively. At the time, many scientists believed such specific and safe antiviral drugs were not achievable. 

“It was a very heretical concept at the time,” Corey said. “But the road that we created in herpes is the road that was followed for HIV, cytomegalovirus, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and influenza. There is nothing that has impacted the lives of more people than antivirals, especially those for HIV.” That first use of antivirals sparked a wave of research that continues to deliver promising results today.

Dr. Larry Corey, 2014
Dr. Larry Corey, 2014 Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

In 1987, Corey began directing the AIDS Clinical Trials Group. Under his leadership the antiretroviral drug AZT, which reduces maternal-fetal HIV transmission, was developed, as was the demonstration that combination antiviral therapy could markedly extend life expectancy of HIV-infected individuals. His numerous contributions to the field of virology include the discovery that genital herpes can make people more susceptible to HIV infection.

Corey remains a principal investigator at HVTN. Through his herpes virus research and experience working in industry and academia, Corey identified a need to directly support large-scale clinical trials with laboratory and statistical analysis efforts.

He directed the Virology Program of the University of Washington and headed the Program in Infectious Diseases at Fred Hutch, which then grew into the current Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division. During this time, he recruited a team of investigators who have taken a comprehensive approach to reducing the risk of dangerous complications for transplant patients. He worked on developing tests for the detection of the Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus and respiratory diseases — infections that can pose a life-threatening danger to transplant patients with compromised immune systems. A study by Fred Hutch researchers determined this collective work has increased long-term survival rates for transplant patients by 41 percent.

“COVID-19 is a re-living of what happened 39 years ago in HIV, when it was difficult and frustrating. The lesson that we learned then is that when the academic, biotech and pharmaceutical communities put their collective scientific assets together, things happen.”

As president and director of Fred Hutch, he worked tirelessly to ensure that its breakthroughs were celebrated, and he encouraged staff and faculty to become more vocal advocates of their research achievements and impact on eliminating cancer and other diseases. He led an effort to identify and prioritize Fred Hutch’s strategic research goals. These priorities include developing new immunotherapies to treat cancers, discovering an HIV/AIDS vaccine and improving cancer prevention, early detection and treatment services in order to reduce the economic and human burden of cancer. These goals promise to keep the Hutch at the forefront of research breakthroughs for years to come.

When he stepped down in 2014, he returned to the lab to pursue his passion to find vaccines and potential cures for HIV/AIDS, herpes and other infections. The opportunity to make numerous research advances, and to have led them as the head of one of the world’s leading research centers, is something he is grateful for.

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