On Saturday night, over 800 people came together at the 2018 Hutch Holiday Gala to celebrate the intersection of data science, technology and life sciences — and its potential to transform cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
Led by a $4 million challenge gift from Microsoft, the largest health care–focused philanthropic contribution in the company’s history, Saturday’s black-tie event raised more than $10.4 million for research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The Gala has now raised a total of $136 million over its 43 years and continues to be the organization’s single largest fundraiser.
Fred Hutch is partnering with Microsoft, other tech innovators and local philanthropists to achieve a common goal: curing cancers faster.
“For us at Microsoft, this is an opportunity for us to help the Hutch do what it has always done, to help the Hutch do what it does best: move faster to cure cancer,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in his remarks.
As in past years, Seattle-area donors united to show their overwhelming support for the Hutch. Board chair Matt McIlwain and his wife, Carol, set a new bar, raising their bid paddle to donate $1 million during the Gala’s “Help the Hutch” segment, the largest such gift in the history of the event.
Hundreds of Gala attendees added their support, participating in a silent auction, live auction, raffle and Fund-a-Lab giving opportunities.
They rounded out the evening dancing to a live performance from KC and the Sunshine Band.
Data science is playing an increasingly important role in cancer research, with new technologies and ever-advancing computational capabilities driving discoveries and the development of better treatments. Partnerships with Microsoft, Amazon and other tech leaders help Fred Hutch researchers accelerate their work in these areas.
“When I ask the researchers what they need most, what they need more of to discover cures faster, I hear a consistent story,” McIlwain said. “That story includes the need for greater access to data sources. That includes much greater use of cloud computing, and of course it includes greater advances, faster advances in machine learning and deep learning in data science.”
For example, researchers can now analyze millions of individual cells from hundreds of patients. With access to immense data sets and the capacity of cloud computing, scientists have the opportunity to learn exponentially more from each study and each patient than they could even a decade ago.
Private support plays a key role in turning this information into insights that help patients.
“Our community is uniquely positioned to come together as the place to discover cures,” said Kelly O’Brien, vice president of Philanthropy at Fred Hutch. “We are incredibly fortunate to collaborate with the best technology companies on the planet and to be supported by one of the most generous and visionary philanthropic communities in the world.”
Former Washington state governor and immediate past chair of the Fred Hutch board of trustees Christine Gregoire echoed that sentiment. “[Washington state is] unique in the country with the assets like the Hutch and … the technology. The two combined are going to make it such that we can really have the breakthroughs we need to cure cancer,” Gregoire said at the Gala.
The urgency fueling these breakthroughs was brought to life with a video and brief program highlighting the story of a patient, Dr. Gregg Schimmel, who participated in four clinical trials before he lost his life to an aggressive form of skin cancer. Thanks to new technologies and data capacity, Hutch researchers were able to discover how his cancer evaded immunotherapy — findings the researchers aim to use to save others.
“He knew that even if he didn't survive, he was helping to advance the science. I'm proud that his legacy is helping other people with cancer,” said Josh Schimmel-Bristow, Gregg’s son, who stood onstage alongside his mother, Dr. Monica Bristow.
Technologies and scientific approaches are becoming more sophisticated, but it was evident on Saturday night that the motivation to overcome cancer, for researchers and supporters alike, couldn’t be more straightforward.
“It's really simple,” said Gala donor Kayley Runstad Swan. “I give because of all the lives that have been lost and all the lives that will be saved.”
Jill Christensen, is a former media relations specialist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, and is a graduate of the University of Washington with a B.A. in journalism and psychology. Her experience has led her to pursue a career at the Hutch, combining her passion for health and science with her communication skills.