Seattle mayor eager to realize the future of health care right here

Jenny Durkan addresses local life sciences representatives at Hutch roundtable
Mayor Jenny Durkan, center, with Dr. Bruce Clurman of Fred Hutch and Rebecca Lovell of Seattle's Office of Economic Development at the life sciences roundtable held Feb. 27 at the Hutch.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, center, with Dr. Bruce Clurman, executive vice president and deputy director of Fred Hutch, and Rebecca Lovell, acting director of Seattle's Office of Economic Development, at the life sciences roundtable held Feb. 27 at the Hutch. Photo by Josh Belzman / Fred Hutch

Seattle’s new mayor believes 2018 will be a year the city is rebuilding, reinventing and reimagining its future. Noting Seattle's longtime pioneering work — including on bone marrow transplantation — in her first State of the City address last month, Jenny Durkan is focused on the next wave of innovation and envisions Seattle at the center of bioscience breakthroughs where “success begets success,” creating even greater opportunities.

Excerpt from Durkan's State of the City address

We have always been that City that invents the future. And we always will be. We're the city that didn't just survive a Great Fire, we got better. We were the jumping off point for the gold rush. We pretty much invented and then re-invented air travel (the first airplane and then booking it online).

Coffee on every corner. The personal computer revolution. The cloud. Bone marrow transplantation.

And today in 2018, we are literally re-building, re-inventing and re-imagining our City for the future.

“What are those things we need to do to have a mission-driven catalyst approach that says to every kid, or any scientist in the world, ‘If you want to be the next one to invent the future, you need to come to Seattle?’” Durkan asked representatives of local life sciences organizations who convened for a roundtable Feb. 27 at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Guests included members of Hutch leadership, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hutch spinout Juno Therapeutics, Nanostring, PATH, Life Science Washington, Novo Nordisk, The Allen Institute, developer Alexandria Real Estate, Washington Global Health Alliance and Hutch-incubated startup Sage Bionetworks, as well as the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

Durkan said it can be hard to keep up with the pace of innovation in health care, but she wants to ensure Seattle is well-positioned — and recognized — for its role in developing scientific breakthroughs. She also stressed the need to prepare students for the innovation economy of the future through her Seattle Promise tuition program to provide free college to Seattle Public School graduates.

“There’s been a mismatch between our young people and our future economy,” she said. “I want to work with you on how we change that dynamic on every level — from how we’re framing what programs we have in colleges and universities to how we’re building right here a pipeline of students to bring to institutions like this or be the diaspora for institutions in other places.”

Setting the stage for a discussion that often turned to themes of partnership and progressing research from the lab to front-line treatments, Fred Hutch Executive Vice President and Deputy Director Dr. Bruce Clurman noted the Hutch’s multifaceted work on cancer, public health, infectious diseases, basic sciences and more.

“We really pride ourselves in being able to bring together diverse and outstanding researchers and clinicians to discover transformative — and basic — things that we can then bring into lifesaving therapies,” he said.

Rebecca Lovell, acting director of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, asked participants to share ideas for growing the city’s life sciences industry. They ranged from better incentivizing investments in early-stage research, to providing ample lab space and computational support for startups, to uniting local life sciences and tech players around a health issue that can serve as a catalyst for further collaboration and innovation.

If Hutch Vice President for Business Development & Strategy Niki Robinson has her way, the city of Seattle in partnership with the local life sciences community will embrace a full range of ideas to “de-risk” investments in promising early-stage research, nurture its commercialization potential and foster talent that stays in Seattle working on the next breakthrough. "So the big idea is ... do all of that," Robinson said.

A key challenge, several guests said, is that while Seattle has many components of a thriving life sciences hub — powerhouses in research, education, biotech, bioscience, data science and cloud computing — it’s Boston, San Francisco and Houston, among others, that have a leg up in attracting startup ideas and dollars and commercializing discoveries.

Durkan says it’s time Seattle fully embraced the life sciences for what it’s already brought to the city — including at least 25,000 high-quality jobs and life-improving innovations — and what it will produce in the future.

“There is just so much upside potential,” concluded Durkan, the first woman mayor of Seattle in nearly 100 years. “You hear that same word: ‘vibrancy’ or ‘cluster’ — we're talking about our mission-driven ecosystem of innovation happening in our city."

Read more about Fred Hutch achievements and accolades.

Josh Belzman, social media manager at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, formerly served as digital engagement director with the Seattle Mayor's Office and as a social media and web producer at NBC News Digital and Reach him at

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