In 2009, Gilliland left Harvard to go to Merck Research Laboratories to learn how, in his words, “to take a good idea and turn it into a cancer treatment.”
As Merck’s senior vice president and global oncology franchise head, he oversaw preclinical and clinical oncology development, as well as clinical oncology licensing. During his four-year tenure, he and the Merck team brought an immunotherapy cancer drug called pembrolizumab (Keytruda) to market in record time, from the first human trials in 2011 to approval in 2014 by the Food and Drug Administration.
In 2013, Gilliland returned to academia when he became the vice dean and vice president of precision medicine at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. There, 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 diseases.
He took the helm as Fred Hutch’s leader in January 2015 and stepped into the role of president and director emeritus at the end of January 2020.
In his announcement to the Hutch community about his plan to step down, Gilliland wrote that he was “proud of what we’ve accomplished together.”
But, he added, “I say ‘we’ because, ultimately, this organization’s success isn’t measured by the work of any one person. It is the result of the commitment and dedication of everyone here.”
“This decade will be pivotal in the development of new, curative therapies. The metrics are looking good,” he wrote as he looked back on his career and at the future of Fred Hutch.