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Dr. Gary Gilliland at the 2018 GeekWire Awards, where he was honored as “Geek of the Year.” (GeekWire Photo)

Gary Gilliland, president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, announced plans to step down from his post next year after a successor is found.

“After considering a number of factors — first and foremost, the interests of the Hutch — I believe this exceptional organization will be best served by a leader who is prepared to guide it into the next decade,” he wrote in an announcement on Tuesday.

While he did not provide more specific reasons for his decision, Gilliland said that he would remain at Fred Hutch in an emeritus role after a new president has been named.

“Gary is largely retiring but he wants to continue to be involved with the Hutch,” Matt McIlwain, chair of the board of trustees at Fred Hutch and managing director at Madrona Venture Group, told GeekWire in an interview.

“He was thinking, I’m 65, I’ve accomplished a lot,” McIlwain added. “We tried to talk him out of [the decision], but we wanted to respect his instincts.”

Gilliland has served as leader of the cancer research powerhouse since 2015. During his first year on the job, Gilliland made the bold prediction that it was “plausible that in 10 years we will have cures and therapies for most, if not all, human cancers.” Gilliland began his career as a blood cancer physician and scientist.

While Fred Hutch is known for its immunology expertise, Gilliland has been outspoken in his push to fight cancer with big data and cloud computing. Under his leadership, Fred Hutch added Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Mike Clayville, a vice president at Amazon Web Services, to its board of trustees and forged partnerships with the cloud tech giants.

The financial performance of the organization has been strong under Gilliland. The center’s endowment has quadrupled since he took over, and Fred Hutch has also benefited from the success of companies like Juno Therapeutics and Adaptive Biotechnologies, both of which spun out of Fred Hutch.

McIlwain, who is leading the search for a successor, said the most important quality he is looking for is “someone who has the respect of the scientific and research community.” Fred Hutch brought on executive search consultant Ilene Nagel, managing director at Russell Reynolds, to help find a replacement. McIlwain said the cancer center is aiming to appoint a new leader as early as the first quarter of next year.

Read the full text of Gilliland’s announcement below.

Dear Friends,

It is with gratitude and optimism that I write to share my decision to step down as president and director of Fred Hutch. After considering a number of factors — first and foremost, the interests of the Hutch — I believe this exceptional organization will be best served by a leader who is prepared to guide it into the next decade. The center is in an excellent position, and I am confident that now is the right time to open the door for that new leader.

I will remain in my role as long as necessary and appropriate to ensure a smooth transition, and plans for the search for a successor are moving forward. The board of trustees has formed a search committee that includes faculty, administrative leaders and trustees, and they have engaged Russell Reynolds and Ilene Nagel, who have worked with Fred Hutch before, to partner on this executive search.

As I said when I arrived five years ago, it seemed I’d spent my entire life preparing for this role. Coming here felt like coming home. Leading Fred Hutch has been the high point of my career, and I am proud of what we’ve accomplished together. We have grown our extraordinary faculty, recruiting the best scientists on the planet. Working with Steve Stadum, we’ve strengthened administrative leadership and operations such as Philanthropy and Business Development to better support our faculty and increase the resources we need to expand, including into the Steam Plant. We recently received an “Exceptional” score on our Fred Hutch/University of Washington Cancer Consortium renewal with the National Cancer Institute. And we’ve initiated and fostered a variety of partnerships, including with local tech powerhouses, to provide new paths to scientific innovation and meaningful advances for patients.

I say “we” because, ultimately, this organization’s success isn’t measured by the work of any one person. It is the result of the commitment and dedication of everyone here. This includes our extraordinary donor community.

I have been humbled by the generosity and advocacy of donors near and far who believe in the power of research to cure cancer and the impact of the work happening here. It is an honor to partner with people who devote their charitable resources to our mission. The pace of science today compels me to ask for your continued generosity and involvement. I know Fred Hutch has been — and will continue to be — a good steward of your resources toward our common goal.

I firmly believe that, as leaders, we have a responsibility to do the right thing for Fred Hutch. The best thing I can do right now to move us forward is to pave the way for a new leader to take what we have accomplished so far, see with fresh eyes the tremendous potential still ahead, and use that new vision to guide Fred Hutch into its next chapter.

Thank you for making me feel at home here from the very start and for sharing in our vision for a healthier world. I look forward to continuing to support the Hutch as president and director emeritus and to celebrating the next wave of our scientific advances waiting just over the horizon.

Gary Gilliland, M.D., Ph.D.
President and Director

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