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New Strategic Plan, Staff Growth on Fred Hutchinson Agenda for 2011

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center will spend much of the new year crafting a new strategic plan, while continuing to grow its staff, carry out research into cancer and infectious diseases, and follow through on the planned upgrade of its computer facilities and capabilities announced earlier this year.

"We really are charting to spend some time about how we do genomics here, and how we handle the computational aspects of genomics work emanating from the center," Lawrence Corey, who becomes president and director of the Hutchinson Center on Jan. 1, told GenomeWeb Daily News. "I think that's really an area that we are going to spend some time on, with respect to defining a strategic plan, and coming up with some solutions."

The plan, he said, should help the Hutchinson Center less than a year from the August expansion of the Herbold Computational Biology Program, which launched into a center-wide program administered by the Public Health Sciences division with activity from each of the Center's scientific divisions.

"We started a new program in computational biology, and a large majority of our researchers use and need the skill of computational biology. We can't just feel that we're going to [address their needs] by just starting a program in computational biology here. There need to be other ways," Corey said.

Asked if the university or other institutions could fill that need, he replied, "We obviously have strength in genomics with the university, and we do have collaborations. On a lab level, on an individual investigators level, there are many people who have smaller experiments but need timely analyses and utilities that don't fit a large program. We need to figure out how to do that better," said Corey.

The strategic planning process will be carried out in house rather than through a consultant. The process is probably a longer-term effort than something that could be finished in 2011, Corey said.

In July, the Hutchinson Center announced it had appointed Corey, senior vice president and co-director of its Vaccine and Infectious Disease Institute, to succeed Lee Hartwell, who retired from the helm of the Hutch to establish and co-direct the Center for Sustainable Health at the Biodesign Institute at ASU.

In addition to his roles at the Hutchinson Center, Corey holds a variety of positions at the University of Washington School of Medicine, where he heads the virology division in the department of laboratory medicine. He is also a professor of laboratory medicine and medicine, adjunct professor of pediatrics and microbiology, and holder of the Lawrence Corey Endowed Chair in Medical Virology.

According to Han Nachtrieb, the Hutchinson Center's vice president of human resources, the center can expect an estimated growth of 2 percent to 3 percent, amounting to around 50 or so jobs in the coming year. Corey said the 50 will include "six to 10" principal investigators.

"We of course hope that figure will be larger, but it is hard to predict given it is dependent upon federal funding," Nachtrieb said. "We expect that growth to occur among scientific personnel: junior faculty and their staff, post-docs, and research support staff."

The Hutchinson Center now employs 204 faculty members and 2,495 staffers, for a total of 2,699 employees. They carry out, or support, research into immunotherapy, infectious disease-related cancer, and basic sciences.

"We're looking to improve our solid cancer tumor programs," Corey said, adding that the Hutch also is working to develop the expanded computing facility announced last spring.

Back in May, the center was awarded $10.1 million in federal funds toward a pair of projects designed to improve its computing facilities and capabilities. The center was approved for a $9.6 million grant through the $814 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act toward constructing a 2,300-square-foot core data center. Set to begin operations by late 2012, the data center is designed to increase its high-performance storage capacity by 50 percent.

Also awarded by NIH was a $500,000 instrumentation grant toward the purchase of a high-performance computing cluster that will support more than 30 groups in 13 different research programs at the Hutchinson Center. Those programs, according to the center, include protein folding, flow cytometry, infectious disease and HIV modeling, proteomics, genome-wide association studies, and high-throughput sequencing.

Based on when funds actually arrive, where exactly the data center will be placed, and the remodeling issues that come with that, Corey said, "We're moving forward to get it installed. We're trying to procure the funds and get it built. That's our goal for this year. But it may not get completed until the first quarter of 2012."

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