Gary Gilliland, who has led Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center as president and director for the past four-plus years, plans to step down in 2020, the nonprofit organization announced Tuesday.
He joined the research center, which is often abbreviated as Fred Hutch, in 2015. Under his leadership, the organization has increased its endowment and grant funding levels, expanded its faculty, and forged numerous research collaborations with outside parties, according to a news release.
Gilliland will stay on until the institution names a successor, it said in the release. After Fred Hutch’s trustees, faculty, and administrators conduct a search for a new head of the research center, Gilliland will hand off his leadership duties and become “president and director emeritus,” Fred Hutch said.
“Although the board hoped Gary could remain center director longer, we understand his decision,” Matthew McIlwain, who chairs the board of trustees, said in a prepared statement.
Formed in 1975, Fred Hutch has employed three recipients of the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Many of Fred Hutch’s highest-profile research programs in recent years have been in cancer immunotherapy.
One pillar of the research center is technology transfer; it makes agreements with pharmaceutical companies and other biotechnology businesses to advance inventions and scientific discoveries made at Fred Hutch. Drugs and other products that have been successfully commercialized under those agreements have brought in earnings in the form of sales royalties.
More than a dozen spinout companies have been founded based on inventions made at Fred Hutch. Perhaps its best-known spinout is cell therapy developer Juno Therapeutics, which was acquired by Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) last year.
One accomplishment Fred Hutch noted in its announcement of Gilliland’s plans to step down is his efforts to help establish so-called Integrated Research Centers that promote collaboration between researchers across disciplines. Fred Hutch said it currently has three such centers, which are in immunotherapy, pathogen-associated cancers, and data science.
Before joining Fred Hutch, Gilliland, a physician, was vice president of precision medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. He also has past career stops at Harvard Medical School and Merck (NYSE: MRK) Research Labs. During his time at Merck, Gilliland had a part in bringing to market a lucrative immunotherapy drug that eventually became pembrolizumab (Keytruda), a so-called checkpoint inhibitor.