Board will help guide center in ‘achieving the most ambitious goals in cancer research’
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who has praised the promise of cloud computing to speed cancer cures, joined the cause Monday as one of the new members of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s board of trustees, the organization announced.
Nadella is drawn to Fred Hutch’s pioneering science, he said, because it bolsters his belief in the power of technology to transform lives.
Before choosing to devote time to the Hutch — the only board he has joined since becoming Microsoft’s leader in 2014 — Nadella said he applied three benchmarks to the decision.
“The first criteria is that [Fred Hutch is] doing world-class work with world-class ambition in an area that is life changing and world changing. The second: an organization that is local to the Puget Sound and the Seattle region. And third: an organization that I can learn a lot from and that I may be able to even contribute some to because of what I know and what I do,” Nadella said in an interview Friday with Fred Hutch News Service.
“When I look at those three criteria, unanimously people would say, ‘Fred Hutch.’”
The organization’s innovative work toward finding cures for cancer “is going to change the lives of all of us,” Nadella said. “I think I can surely contribute given what I know. Because when you think about cancer research, the role of digital technology and data and machine learning is increasingly going to be very important.”
In all, the Hutch board appointed five new members, infusing the institute’s governing body with leaders from big data and business — sectors considered crucial companions to cancer biology in the center’s pursuit of cures.
Also joining the board of trustees are:
For Seattle, the additions mark a milestone in history and geography, a congruence of health, life sciences and technology, said Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutch. He thanked the incoming members for donating their energies as they “guide us in harnessing this momentum toward achieving the most ambitious goals in cancer research.”
“The Hutch is uniquely positioned at the interface between the best research in cancer biology and treatment, the best in tech — including Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Google (a soon-to-be Hutch neighbor with the company’s planned move for its Seattle offices) — and the highest-quality talent in venture capital and biotech, and we can enable clinical translation to develop cures for cancer,” Gilliland said.
The board — which oversees the Hutch’s values, long-range strategies and core mission — is also gaining new leadership. Former Washington governor and breast cancer survivor Christine Gregoire is the newly appointed chair. She will head a board comprised of 14 other current members, including new Vice Chair Matt McIlwain, plus the five incoming members.
“Our board is stellar as it represents expertise invaluable to our commitment to find the cure to cancer,” Gregoire said. “While chair, I know our first-rate board will bring the necessary support and leadership to our CEO and all the people involved with the Hutch so they can do what they do best ... give real hope to patients, their family and friends as they win battle after battle and ultimately win the war against cancer.
“Satya Nadella will bring a very thoughtful commitment to using cutting-edge technology to find new treatments and cures to cancer,” she said.
Nadella, who joined Microsoft in 1992, has spearheaded the company’s evolution to the cloud infrastructure and services business.
“Fundamentally, it’s going to be the science and the scientists and their work that are clearly going to be the key to curing cancer. But what is now possible are new tools — beyond their progress with chemistry and molecules and immunology,” Nadella said.
“Just imagine dreaming about a world where you can have the greatest immunologist, cell biologist working hand in hand with cloud computing infrastructure so that, in fact, scientists can better collaborate, be more productive in their discoveries, share. That’s what the dream is.”
At the Hutch, Chief Information Officer Matthew Trunnell is leading a foray to leverage big data to accelerate cures. Combining clinical data with molecular and genomic data will reveal insights into the mechanisms of disease and inform individual therapeutic decisions for particular patients, Trunnell has said. He also is co-leading the new Hutch Data Commonwealth, a hub for data science designed to enhance translational research and expand the scope of Hutch science.
Nadella, who has called data the “new electricity,” pledged as a board member to “be available to the people inside of Fred Hutch who are guiding the work, doing the work, leading the work.”
“I will be of course bringing my perspective of how important the work they’re doing (on big data) is to Fred Hutch’s future, and be a great supporter of that work,” he said. “But ultimately, I am a believer that great institutions are built by people in the organization who are leading the work and they deserve to have boards that can actually support them doing that great work.”
Originally from Hyderabad, India, Nadella lives in Bellevue with his wife and their three children. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Mangalore University, a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago.
Friends have described Nadella as an astute listener who is quick to decide what information to absorb and is quick to act. In talking about Microsoft’s future, he has name-checked poet Oscar Wilde: “We need to believe in the impossible and remove the improbable.” And he has described himself as a man “defined by my curiosity,” who buys more books than he can finish, and who believes “if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things.”
To help prepare for his board role, Nadella said he read the book "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" and he also read “cover to cover” the latest issue of Hutch Magazine, which explored collaborations between Hutch cancer researchers and their counterparts across the country and across the world.
Nadella also lauded the public pledge made by Hutch president Gilliland that, within 10 years, it is plausible to expect that scientists will have developed curative therapies for most, if not all, human cancers.
“I’m putting my bet with Gary. If he’s optimistic, more power to him. I want to make sure that I can do everything to keep supporting, bolstering that optimism. Because that’s the type of leadership we need,” Nadella said.
“I do believe that what’s happening with cancer research is similar to what is happening in technology, where there have been exponential improvements for the last 30 years. We can now marry some of that digital technology with the fundamental science breakthroughs and accelerate it. So this 10-year horizon seems to be the right horizon to me,” Nadella said. “We should think about that 10-year horizon — what Gary has been talking about — as a great, galvanizing force, not only for Fred Hutch but for the entire community of cancer research.”
In addition to Nadella, the new class of incoming board members will help shape the 2016-17 Hutch board with their unique talents, passions, additional skills in investing, venture capital and still more cloud computing prowess.
As a vice president of Amazon Web Services, or AWS, the cloud-computing arm of Amazon, Clayville sees the vast potential of cancer researchers accessing and evaluating oceans of health data at the speed of super computers.
As a man who lost his wife, Holly, to cancer in 2011, he holds a deep stake in merging cloud power with the quest for cures.
“I believe that cloud technology and big data will create more insights into cancer over the next five years than we have gleaned from science over the last decade,” said Clayville, who leads the global sales, professional services and training teams for AWS. “I feel that my experience with cloud-based technology will help the Hutch leverage the latest technology to bring insights to the control and inevitably the end of cancer.”
Holly Clayville, a mom of three, a school volunteer and a former airline loyalty program executive, was 46 when she died from a cancer of unknown primary origin.
Her passing inspired Clayville to launch a nonprofit that seeks to uncover new links between viruses and the emergence of malignancies.
“I started the Clayville Foundation to advance our knowledge of how pathogens have an impact on cancer initiation. Big data analysis will shed much needed light on both the intimation of cancer and how the immune system can be fired up to control or cure cancer,” he said. “I would like to bring my knowledge of big data to bear on the research at the Hutch.”
The saga of Fred Hutch wraps so snugly around Behnke’s life, it’s hard to imagine one without the other.
He’s given big — including a $3 million gift from Behnke and his wife, Renée, in 2014 to fund science. He’s guided growth — driving a capital campaign to complete the E. Donnall Thomas Clinical Research Laboratory Building in 1997. And he’s governed before — as chair of the Fred Hutch board of trustees, he helped oversee the 1998 formation of SCCA, Fred Hutch’s clinical care partner.
That history affords Behnke, president of investment firm REB Enterprises, the privilege of a bold prediction on the Hutch’s future.
“I see that, in the next short period, we’re going to make fantastic strides in really finding more and more cures for cancer as well as making the consortium we have between the University of Washington and Fred Hutch and Seattle Children’s become the premier place to be treated for cancer in the country,” Behnke said.
Inside his family, cancer has hit frequently and fatally — five types in all.
Lung and prostate cancer took Fleischauer’s father. Thyroid cancer threatened his wife multiple times. A brother succumbed to prostate cancer and other related illnesses. Colon cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma arose in a brother-in-law.
“I think about cancer daily, and the disease has altered my family’s trajectory in numerous ways — career changes, caregiving, geographic changes, life-and-death decisions. What’s more devastating, however, is that we’re far from unique. This disease is ubiquitous and burdens all kinds of families in countless ways every minute of the day,” Fleischauer said.
“The impact of cancer extends far past the patient. Like many other families, we’ve experienced that first hand too many times.”
After overseeing many of the venture capital, development and commercial operations at JH Kelly, Fleischauer said he plans to bring to the board his skills as a behind-the-scenes catalyst.
And Fred Hutch’s mission to eliminate cancer truly resonates, he said, following his decades of watching not only his loved ones face repeated diagnoses but many other friends and colleagues. Cancer even complicated the birth of his oldest, daughter, Kari, in 1992.
That year, his wife, Kristin, underwent radical thyroid cancer surgery while pregnant with Kari. Kristin completed her radiation treatment just hours after delivering Kari. (Today, Kari works at SpaceX in the Greater Los Angeles area.)
A long-time statistician for the Seattle Seahawks, Kristin has undergone several more surgeries and treatments for thyroid cancer recurrences during the past 25 years.
“There are certainly some silver linings in terms of altering life perspectives and value structures,” Fleischauer said. “But ultimately it’s a horrible family of diseases.”
Some insight into White is revealed in the logo he picked to represent his new investment firm — a hummingbird hovering next to a flower poised for pollination.
For White, founder of Sahsen Ventures, the gentle icon denotes his desire to “nurture mission-driven enterprises that support the Earth and all its inhabitants.” The name? “Sah-sen” is what indigenous people in the Pacific Northwest call the hummingbird, which they regard as “a messenger of joy” frequenting flowers to make the world a better place.
“Whereas certain people might be doctors or be doing medical research, I’ve been investing. So this is just a way for me to contribute while continuing in that vein,” White said. Among the sectors he aims to support via Sahsen: therapeutics and biotech as well as education, youth and family, social justice and the environment.
His appointment to the Hutch board is a calling, he said, that comes at “the right time and place.”
“Given where medical innovation and cancer research are, Fred Hutch is in a position of strength. It’s an exciting organization to be associated with. The idea to find cures — a mantra of the Hutch — rings clear to me,” he said.
White said he plans to apply his investment experience to the board to assist as a funding mechanism to bolster research resources for the investigators in the labs.
Bill Briggs is a former Fred Hutch News Service staff writer. Follow him at @writerdude. Previously, he was a contributing writer for NBCNews.com and TODAY.com, covering breaking news, health and the military. Prior, he was a staff writer for The Denver Post, part of the newspaper's team that earned the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Columbine High School massacre. He has authored two books, including "The Third Miracle: an Ordinary Man, a medical Mystery, and a Trial of Faith."