Leroy Hood, Turning 70, Still Aims to Accomplish “The Most Ambitious Things of My Career”

10/10/08Follow @xconomy

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—Over lunch, he spoke with a couple of ISB faculty members about an introductory textbook on systems biology. The aim is to come up with a book that could be useful for undergraduates in systems biology, mid-level grad students in other disciplines, and medical students. “There are four or five systems biology books out there and they’re all virtually incomprehensible unless you know lots of math,” Hood says.

—In the afternoon, he talked with two co-founders of Integrated Diagnostics, David Galas and Paul Kearney, about how they will fund the company, and possibly set up people in Luxembourg and in the United States. (Hood has formed strong relations in Luxembourg since the government there sponsored a $200 million systems biology initiative earlier this year.)

—Later came a meeting with the ISB’s new general counsel, Cathryn Campbell, and Gary Raisl, the ISB’s vice president for finance and administration. “We talked about how we’re going to regularize ourselves as we move from infancy to adolescence as an organization,” Hood said, with just a slight hint of a mocking tone of voice. “We need to look at what procedures we have to get in place, and things like that,” he says, more matter-of-fact.

Lastly, from 4 pm to 4:45, he sat down with yours truly. Sandwiched somewhere in between all that, he had two science conversations with people in his lab group.

“Oh, and I almost forgot, tonight I’m going to dinner with an old student of mine, Tim Hunkapiller,” Hood says. “He’s going to try to sell me some ABI (Applied Biosystems) next-generation sequencers. We’re going to debate back-and-forth on these things.”

I asked how he goes about his work differently now than he did 20 years ago. “The major change is I have a much bigger vision of what I’d like to do,” Hood says. “Twenty or 30 years ago there was a much more intense focus on the science. We still do very focused science here, but now my global picture is one of the transformation of medicine. I really focus on strategic partnerships.”

My last personal question seemed like a dumb one, but I figured I had to ask: Will he ever retire? “I think I will retire from being president, but I’d always like to do science as long as I can,” Hood says. “I think sometime in the future, and I don’t see it immediately, I would step down and just be a faculty member here and let someone else do these bigger things I’m talking about. But right now I’m having a very good time doing these bigger things.”

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