Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements
Dr. Larry Corey
Dr. Larry Corey was given an official portrait at a ceremony. Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Larry Corey receives commissioned portrait

Their painted portraits link them as science icons: Nobel laureate Dr. David Baltimore, pioneering geneticist Dr. Janet Rowley and, now, Fred Hutch virologist Dr. Larry Corey — each of their likenesses brushed by the same artist.

At a ceremony Tuesday on the Fred Hutch campus, Corey was presented with his official portrait.

Corey, president and director emeritus of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, viewed the portrait along with a gathering of friends, family, and colleagues.

While Corey joked the painting makes him look better on canvas, Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland told the group the art represents Corey’s numerous serious achievements.

They include:

  • In the early 1980s, showing the effectiveness of the world’s first antiviral therapy (acyclovir) for the treatment of herpes simplex virus-2 (genital herpes), which created the path for treatments against HIV, cytomegalovirus, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
  • Chairing the AIDS Clinical Trials Group, or ACTG, that developed combination drug therapies and protease inhibitors, ultimately giving people with HIV a normal life span.
  • Joining Fred Hutch in 1996 to lead what is now the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division.
  • Building and leading the Fred Hutch-based HIV Vaccine Trials Network, or HVTN.
  • Helping found Juno Therapeutics, a biotechnology company focused on novel immunotherapies for cancer, using reprogrammed T cells that directly attack malignancies while avoiding healthy tissues. 

Corey’s painting was created by artist Jon R. Friedman, who also spoke at the event. Friedman is known for his portraits, landscapes, and sculptures. His works are on display at the National Portrait Gallery, the U.S. House of Representatives, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Institutes of Health, and other venues. His portrait subjects include Dr. Janet Rowley, who proved a link between certain genetic abnormalities and certain cancers, and Dr. David Baltimore, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist who keynoted the 2015 Conference on Cell and Gene Therapy for HIV Cure held at Fred Hutch.

— Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

Gathering at Joel Meyers Symposium
Colleagues of the late Dr. Joel Meyers honored him at an inaugural symposium held in his name. Photo courtesy of Limei Fan

Inaugural symposium honors Dr. Joel Meyers

When Dr. Joel Meyers launched the first program in the country to study and treat the unique infections that plague bone marrow transplant patients, his door was always open to young scientists. Twenty five years after his 1991 death, his Fred Hutch colleagues from those days honored him by hosting the inaugural Symposium on Infectious Disease in the Immunocompromised Host. The day-long event, held Monday in downtown Seattle, drew about 150 luminaries in the now-established field, including a dozen researchers whose early work was funded by an endowment scholarship named for Meyers.

In the early days, “infection was the most common cause of death in patients with bone marrow transplantation as well as those undergoing cancer chemotherapy,” said Dr. Philip Pizzo, former dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine and an expert in infectious diseases and pediatric blood cancers. “That has changed. And it has changed because of people like Joel.”

As one of the opening speakers, Pizzo described the days when patients undergoing bone marrow transplantation were hospitalized for 100 days in isolated, sterile environments with controlled air flow and irradiated food. Today, many stem cell transplants take place on an outpatient basis with antibiotics or antivirals used prophylactically to prevent infections — a controversial approach before Meyers showed through clinical trials that it saved lives.

“In the 1980s, everyone thought the Hutch [researchers] were the cowboys,” said Dr. James C. Wade, deputy director of quality, clinical operations, and network development at the Virginia-based Inova Schar Cancer Institute. “They were out doing the wild things. They were the ones who were blazing what would be the future.”

Dr. Lucy Tompkins, today a professor of infectious diseases, microbiology and immunology at Stanford University, was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Washington with Meyers and virologist Dr. Larry Corey, past president and director of Fred Hutch.

“I never heard Joel say anything bad about anybody, but he had this wicked wit. That wry little smile of Joel’s — I’ll always remember him that way,” Tompkins said. “It’s sad that he’s not here today to see the massive explosion of the field that he started and this preeminent program, which is still the guiding light for all of us.”

Meyers died of colon cancer at age 46. His widow, Barbara Thrasher, established the Joel Meyers Endowment Scholarship with Corey’s help to fund infectious disease researchers early in their careers. She and her second husband, Rick Koffey, continue to support the endowment.

“When [Joel] began at the Hutch, it was this tiny institute. It was the last hope for so many,” said Thrasher, who attended the symposium with Koffey and Meyers’ brother, Dr. Robert Meyers. “He would be so gratified to know how this has fanned out around the world, with so many people teaching others.”

Five past and current recipients of Joel Meyers Endowment scholarships delivered talks on topics ranging from fungal infections to the role of the microbiome in transplant-related infections. They included Dr. Kieren Marr, now director of the Transplant and Oncology Infectious Diseases Program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Dr. W. Garrett Nichols, the chief medical officer of North Carolina-based Chimerix; Dr. Angela Campbell, a medical officer in the epidemiology and prevention branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and from Fred Hutch, current scholar Dr. Jonathan Golob, Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division research associate Dr. Josh Hill and Dr. Corey Casper, head of Global Oncology.  Twelve of the 18 past scholars attended the symposium, along with graduate students and trainees from across the country.

In closing the symposium, Dr. Larry Corey recalled a dinner talk he attended with Meyers in 1990, the year before his friend and colleague became ill. As the speaker noted the advances made in treating bacterial and viral infections, he recalled exchanging a glance with Meyers.

“It was a glance I still remember 26 years later,” Corey said. “It was a glance that made academic medicine the thrill it was for him and me — the thrill that keeps me going. My only hope is that the trainees who are here get to live these moments.”

— Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Julie McElrath
Dr. Julie McElrath and her son, Ben Stuart. Photo by Nancy Greenwood Vehrs

Dr. Julie McElrath appointed as the Joel D. Meyers Endowed Chair

Fred Hutch in partnership with the Thrasher Koffey Foundation on Monday announced the creation of the Joel D. Meyers Endowed Chair. Dr. Julie McElrath, a Fred Hutch senior vice president, director of its Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, or VIDD, and an internationally recognized HIV vaccine researcher, is its first recipient.

The announcement came at a reception following the day-long inaugural Symposium on Infectious Disease in the Immunocompromised Host, held in downtown Seattle.

“I can think of no one more deserving of this award given your superb contributions to the field of vaccine research and global health and your outstanding leadership of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division,” said Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland.

McElrath is a principal investigator and director of the Hutch-based HIV Vaccine Trials Network’s Laboratory Center, where she plays a key role in the largest international program for testing HIV vaccines. She also directs the Seattle Vaccine Trials Unit, one of 30 international sites for testing vaccine candidates.  She has been VIDD co-director since its founding as an institute in 2007 and was named its director in 2012.

Her research focuses on infectious diseases and human immunology, shedding light on ways to protect against pathogens and improve outcomes for people with chronic infections and cancer.

The new endowed faculty chair, an honorary position that includes financial support for research, is named for Dr. Joel Meyers, a pioneer in tackling infections in patients with weakened immune systems. Meyers, who died in 1991, founded the Hutch’s Infectious Disease Program.

The Thrasher Koffey Foundation is a charitable organization founded by Meyers’ widow, Barbara Thrasher, and her second husband, Rick Koffey. Thrasher and Koffey also support the Joel Meyers Endowment Scholarship at Fred Hutch, which helps fund infectious disease researchers early in their careers.

— Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

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