Larry Corey, Virus Hunter With Midwest Roots, Seeks to Unleash Health Innovation at Hutch
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his older brother-in-law, who was an ophthalmologist. The motivation to do something in medicine grew stronger when his brother-in-law was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, and ultimately died of sepsis, a massive bacterial infection. Corey was 26 at the time.
“That was a profound moment in my life,” Corey says.
While some researchers say they were inspired to enter their field based on a personal experience like that, it wasn’t really the case for Corey. In medical school, he had considered becoming a cardiologist. When he secured his position in the Public Health Service at the CDC, during the Vietnam War era, he didn’t know exactly what he was going to get assigned to do. There was a possibility he could have been sent to a combat zone. He ended up assigned to the viral disease division, at CDC headquarters in Atlanta.
“It was easy to decide,” Corey says. “They said, ‘OK, this is where your assignment is.”
Studying the ways of viruses turned out to be his calling. Corey got to work on basic virology of flu, rabies, and a rare condition called Reye’s Syndrome. He was mentored at the CDC by Walter Dowdle, a renowned virus researcher, and Mike Gregg, who Corey says “taught me how to write scientifically.”
By 28, Corey was married and had his first child. He knew of the University of Washington, and had heard it had a good infectious disease research program, but didn’t know much beyond that. He went for it, on a lark, he says.
“It was sort of like, we’re young, we had one child, let’s explore the world, and so we came out here,” Corey says. “We thought we’d be out here for a couple years. We’ve been here since 1975.”
From the start, Corey preferred to make himself a well-rounded physician-scientist. That meant he would split time between researching basic questions in the lab, while continuing to see patients and see how ideas got applied in the clinic.
By 1987, Corey’s name was well-established among his scientific peers, around the same time the AIDS epidemic was spreading around the world and making for some very scary headlines. That year, he was elected by colleagues to run the first AIDS clinical trial group. By 1996, he was recruited to the Hutch by Appelbaum and Robert Day, the president and director of the center at the time. A year later, the cancer center greatly expanded its mission in infectious disease, as Anthony Fauci at the National Institutes of Health asked Corey to spearhead the HIV Vaccine Trials Network from his base at the Hutch.
Corey climbed through the ranks of science at least partially because of his ability to get along with people, and encourage them to apply their talents. Instead of holing up in a secretive research bunker to do battle in the competitive world of biomedical research, Corey has long sought to form alliances … Next Page »