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Joining The “Big Data Party,” Fred Hutch Hires Broad’s Top Techie

Xconomy Seattle — 

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle said today it has hired a new chief information officer, Matthew Trunnell, as the biomedical institution moves into an era of deep genomic sequencing and other information-heavy approaches to help find new, targeted treatments for cancer and other diseases.

A new president and director, D. Gary Gilliland, has been in place at the Hutch, as it’s known, for less than six months and is bringing big changes. Last week, the institution announced the hire of a new head of licensing and commercialization, Nicole Robinson, a crucial role at a place that hopes to reap financial and not just intellectual and societal rewards from its work in cancer and immunology. (As Xconomy wrote about here, the Hutch has an unusual stock-payment arrangement with Seattle’s Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO), which drew in part upon the Hutch’s work for its cancer immunotherapy programs.)

Now the center has hired away Trunnell from The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, one of the country’s key genomic research centers. It’s a homecoming of sorts; Trunnell earned his master’s degree in oceanography from the University of Washington in Seattle and met his wife there, he says.

But the return isn’t nostalgic. Trunnell is eager to tap into the computing and data-sharing firepower of Seattle’s tech elite to light the way for more sophisticated and more muscular use of big data in biomedicine. Amazon, which rules cloud computing, is literally right down the street from the Hutch.

“Compared to a lot of fields, [the life sciences] are late to the big data party,” Trunnell says. “In scientific fields like climate, atmosphere/oceanography, in fields from finance to marketing, there has been a lot of work over the last decade leveraging data at scale.”

In the life sciences, Trunnell says, only recently have advances like lower-cost sequencing allowed for the generation of massive amounts of data, and regulations—to protect the privacy of patients, for example—also constrict the use and manipulation of those data.

“It’s exactly the sort of thing that people in life sciences are very careful about,” says Trunnell. “The challenge ahead is social engineering as much as it is data and infrastructure engineering.”

Trunnell will be in charge of all aspects of the Hutch’s IT infrastructure, bioinformatics, data analytics, and planning. He starts his new gig on August 31.