Fred Hutch’s president says a new strain of virus research center is needed to fight future outbreaks
Thomas Lynch, the president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, discusses the impact of the coronavirus outbreak during a GeekWire forum. (GeekWire Photo via Zoom / YouTube) Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center already has dozens of scientists working on infectious diseases, including COVID-19 — but the center’s president and director, Thomas Lynch, says the research community is going to have to kick things up a notch to head off future pandemics.
His prescription? Create institutions like Fred Hutch that are devoted to virology.
“I feel strongly about this,” Lynch, a veteran medical doctor and researcher who took on the Hutch’s top post less than four months ago, said today during an online conversation presented via Zoom for GeekWire members. “I think virology needs a ‘cancer centers’ program, OK?”
Lynch pointed out that the National Cancer Institute has designated dozens of comprehensive cancer centers , including Fred Hutch, to conduct research into all aspects of the disease, from its molecular and genetic roots to its behavioral effects.
“We need the same thing in virology,” he told GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop. “Because guess what’s going to happen? In two years, we’re going to be over COVID. We’re going to be through COVID. But there’s going to be another coronavirus. Five years later, there’s going to be another Ebola virus. There’ll be more retroviruses. The viruses will be with us as long as humanity is around, and we need the ability to rapidly respond.”
The Seattle area already has a vibrant community of virologists and epidemiologists — at Fred Hutch and other institutions including the University of Washington, the Infectious Disease Research Institute, Seattle Children’s and the Institute for Disease Modeling. But Lynch said “we need to be doing this together in a coordinated way,” and creating a nationwide network of virus research centers would help.
In the meantime, Lynch isn’t just waiting around: He pointed to the Hutch’s effort to create an outpatient clinical trial center, so that studies relating to COVID-19 can be expanded beyond hospital settings.
One research project, known as CovidWatch , is monitoring people who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 , including workers at grocery stores and homeless shelters. Another clinical trial, funded by the Bezos Family Foundation , involves testing Fred Hutch’s own employees as they return to work at the South Lake Union HQ, to look for signs of the virus or the antibodies sparked by an infection.
“We’re using that to guide bringing people back,” Lynch said. “Our strong hope is to let everybody back within the next month — everybody back who’s doing laboratory research.”
Lynch said it’ll take a while longer to bring other employees back to the office. “We have people who can work remotely,” he said, “and they should, because it reduces the number...