President & CEO, PNRI (current)
June 6, 2022
I want to start by saying how privileged I feel to have been asked by Diane to write this letter to you. It has been so wonderful to think back and reflect on the last 10 years of our relationship.
I remember vividly the first time that we met in the spring of 2012 thanks to our mutual friend, Jack Faris. I was a newly minted President & CEO and you were searching for a new home for yourself and Joe Nadeau where you could continue to pursue your research projects.
We met for lunch at the Rainier Club in downtown Seattle and after some small talk about mutual interests, including stories about our respective time living in Geneva, Switzerland, you invited me to share my burgeoning vision for the future of the Institute. No doubt, my use of “genetics” and “computational biology” caught your attention, even if my naivete about the current state of the art in those fields likely caused you to shudder once or twice. Be that as it may, you respectfully listened to me, occasionally offering a word of encouragement about the path I was laying out.
We connected a couple of more times during the course of the summer and continued to share ideas about possible directions for the Institute along the lines of our first conversation. In early fall, you introduced me to Joe and after some further discussion, the two of you shared with me your interest in joining PNRI.
While excited by the prospect to having both of you as faculty members, I was quite concerned about your expectations regarding the amount of funding that you could have easily commanded at other institutions. When I finally asked about your financial expectations, on cue, the two of you laughed and you told me that you knew that I did not have a large amount of discretionary funds and that you would prefer that I use those funds to bring on other faculty members who would join us in building the kind of Institute where you wanted to work. Whenever I recant that story, at this point I look up to the sky and quip, “I must have done something good in a previous life.”
Building the kind of Institute that you wanted to work at began that day and has continued ever since. On your recommendation, Aimee Dudley joined PNRI later that year and the four of us worked on crafting a future vision for the Institute. In time, we articulated a scientific mission that was reflective of the drive the three of you possess to realize a future that eschewed the status quo in genetics, leveraged rapidly evolving scientific and technological advances, and, perhaps most importantly, would lead to new ways to improve human health and well-being.
When I presented this scientific mission to the Institute’s Board of Trustees in 2015, I made it clear that this was an aspirational vision, in the sense that there were few ongoing research projects at that time that were aligned with its desired research outcomes. Nevertheless, the Board quickly embraced this new direction.
There was one ongoing project, however, that followed closely in the spirit of that vision; namely, your computational method based on information theory and variable dependencies. Over the years, I have watched you and your team labor over the development of that methodology with passion and perseverance. And, I have come to understand that this pursuit is an embodiment of your intellectual love of mathematics, computing power, and biology. How do I know that? Quite simply, it is the twinkle in your eye and the smile on your face that I have repeatedly seen whenever you talk about the method in front of an interested audience.
Over time, more of the research at PNRI has become aligned in one way or another with that once aspirational vision. Much of that alignment has come through the recruitment of new faculty at PNRI, a process that you have actively participated in, ever attentive to your desire to invite scientists who will help build the kind of Institute that meets your vision.
Another wonderful example of a project aligned with the mission and enabled by your recruitment of Lisa Stubbs to PNRI is the Decoding Stress study. From its very start, you have viewed this research project as a manifestation of the scientific mission that had been articulated several years ago, as well as one for which PNRI will be recognized in the future. From our talks, I know that you are deeply committed to the success of this project.
At this point, I would like to shift to a more personal reflection. While my current role is as an administrator, I have to say that I gain vicarious pleasure from listening to you and the other faculty talk about your research findings. There are few greater joys in this regard then when you show up at my office door, often quite late in the afternoon, sit down, and announce that your lab had made a most interesting biological finding. After an excited and often detailed description of the finding, you pause, and with a sly grin on your face inevitably say, “and, I have no idea what it means.”
To this day, my desktop is figuratively littered with the remains of any number of those findings, which, if you had pursued them further, may have led to remarkable contributions to our understanding of human biology. I have to admit that for quite some time I was frustrated by your choice not to spend more time exploring “what it means.” However, I have come to understand and accept that you were simply telling me stories about the power and drive of your innate and unquenchable curiosity.
David, your contributions to PNRI over the past ten years have been nothing less than transformational. In many ways, you share quite a number of attributes with PNRI’s founder, Bill Hutchinson. The words that I use to describe Bill – visionary, humble, leader, disruptor, brilliant, humanitarian – are the same that I use when describing you. Your wish to build an Institute that you would want to work at will be a guiding light for PNRI for many years to come. Thank you for all that you have done for PNRI, and for your partnership and friendship.
With warmest regards,
John Wecker, PhD
President & CEO
Pacific Northwest Research Institute
Senior Investigator and Director of Educational Outreach, PNRI (current)
David Galas: How to Seize an Opportunity
- Aimée M. Dudley
I first met David when I was a postdoc in search of a faculty position. David was a Professor and Senior Vice President at the Institute for Systems Biology. He and Diane Isonaka, who was then the ISB’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, were instrumental in convincing my very reluctant NIH program officer that the ISB would be an acceptable place for me to start my faculty career. That was 16 years ago, and, in that time, I’ve been fortunate to have David as a mentor, colleague, and friend.
I have no doubt that in this collection of remembrances many people will discuss David’s dedication to mentoring young scientists. Mentors can teach you many things: how to recover from a misstep, how to promote yourself and your ideas, and how to navigate the often-confusing path of a career in science. If I had to choose one, I think the most important thing I have learned from David is how to spot an opportunity and go after it.
When I was a new faculty member, only a few months out of my post-doc and trying to figure out how to run a lab, David invited me to participate in a new strategic initiative that he and Diane were working on with the government of Luxembourg. Decades earlier the country had transitioned from a steel-based economy into a financial services powerhouse and was looking to transform itself once again. Electronic medical records and healthcare data would be a good fit for their infrastructure and workforce. David helped convince them that systems biology, still a relatively new field, was essentially the same thing. That accomplished, David told me that “all we needed to do” was design a five-year, $100 million project, half of which should involve using human genome sequencing to enable precision medicine.
There was just one catch. At the time only three human genomes had ever been sequenced: “The” human genome for ~$3 billion, J. Craig Venter’s genome for ~$100 million, and James Watson’s genome for ~$1 million. What we were proposing would require setting up our own sequencing facility, which would have consumed most of the time and all of the funding. David realized that, if he looked hard enough, he might be able to find a strategic partner with that capability. So, for the next several months, he essentially lived on airplanes sniffing out and tracking down anyone, anywhere who might be on the verge of cracking the $5,000 genome. He found Complete Genomics, signed them onto the project, and in the first quarter after the Luxembourg funds were awarded, David had the genome sequences of the first family of four in hand. That experience taught me that big opportunities require bold ideas—there are times when you just can’t go too big. You need to find the right technology partners, excite them, and bring them along. I also noticed that a key to the success of that endeavor was how well David and Diane worked together. They had experience with large, complex, international deals and their skills complemented each other. While not everyone can be married to their best collaborator, David and Diane sure seemed to be having fun and, they were really good at it!
After David left the ISB for the Pacific Northwest Research Institute, I joined him a year later. I was fortunate to have the office next door to his. During that time, I had many occasions to appreciate another aspect of David’s personality — he is completely unflappable. After we submitted one of our joint patent applications, he smiled and said, “Good, that’s submitted. Now if it’s any good, everyone will start suing us.” Another time, I was in his office anxiously stressing over grant funding. David chuckled and said, “This sounds like a problem that money can solve, and it’s good to have problems that money can solve.”
Of all the opportunities that a life in science has afforded me, the one that I am most grateful for is the opportunity to form friendships with interesting, curious, and caring people. In David, I found an intrepid explorer who photographed the canyons of Kauaʻi while hanging out of helicopters, a visionary who help lead major initiatives like the Human Genome Project and the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine, and an entrepreneur who helped develop tools like the all too familiar rapid antigen COVID tests. It’s amazing that not only can such a variety of interests and achievements can reside in one person, but that I could be fortunate enough to have him as a friend and colleague.
Aimée M. Dudley
Pacific Northwest Research Institute (PNRI)