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Biotech breakup: Lee Hood, Bill Gates and ‘a flog in a teeth’

Editor’s note: Excerpted from  Luke Timmerman’s book, “Hood: Trailblazer of a Genomics Era.”

Two weeks before Christmas 1999, Lee Hood seemed to have it all: A amatory family. Money. Fame. Power. He counted Bill Gates, one of a world’s richest men, as a crony and supporter. Eight years earlier, Gates had given a University of Washington $12 million to captivate a star biologist from Caltech in what The Wall Street Journal called a “major coup.” Hood’s assignment: build a first-of-its-kind investigate dialect during a intersection of biology, mechanism science, and medicine.

Even during 61, a former quarterback of an undefeated high propagandize football group could still do 100 pushups in a row. He ran during slightest 3 miles a day. He climbed mountains. He trafficked a universe to give systematic talks to watchful audiences. Hood did indulge in a lush art-filled palace along Lake Washington, yet differently cared small for a finer things in life. Those who worked closely with him pronounced he still had a same consternation and unrestrained for scholarship he had as a student.

Lee Hood

1986: Led a group during Caltech that grown initial programmed DNA sequencer prototype.

1980-2013: Co-founder of some-more than a dozen biotech companies, including Amgen (1980), Applied Biosystems (1981), and Seattle’s Rosetta Inpharmatics (1996) and Arivale (2013).

1991: Recruited by Bill Gates to a University of Washington to lead initial Department of Molecular Biotechnology.

2000: Co-founded a Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle

2013:Won a National Medal of Science, with President Obama citing his “pioneering spirit, passion, vision, inventions and leadership” that led to “transformative blurb products and several new systematic disciplines.”

Source: Luke Timmerman

Yet here, during a spin of a millennium, Hood was miserable. Just as his once-controversial prophesy for “big science” was apropos a existence by a Human Genome Project, he didn’t feel like a winner. He felt suffocated.

He had a new vision, and felt a university bureaucrats who were in assign kept removing in his way. It was time for Hood to have a formidable review with his biggest supporter.

On a typically dim and gray Dec day in Seattle, Hood climbed into in his dinged-up Camry and gathering opposite a Highway 520 floating overpass over Lake Washington to accommodate Gates, a billionaire CEO of Microsoft. Hood came to contend he had quiescent his included Gates-funded professorship during UW.

A new hospital giveaway from university red fasten was a customarily approach to perform his dream for biology in a 21st century.

Gates was good wakeful of Hood’s record of achievements and a catalytic intensity for medicine. Hood led a group during Caltech that invented 4 investigate instrument prototypes in a 1980s, including a initial programmed DNA sequencer. The softened machines that followed finished a Human Genome Project probable and remade biology into some-more of a data-driven, quantitative science. Researchers no longer had to spend several years — an whole connoisseur student’s career — customarily to establish a method of a singular gene. With fast, programmed sequencing tools, a new era of biologists could consider broadly about a billions of units of DNA that hold a instructions to make proteins that do a work within cells. Thousands of labs around a universe — during investigate institutions, evidence companies, and drugmakers — used a children of Hood’s antecedent instruments as bland workhorses.

New technologies

Building on his success during Caltech, Hood recruited teams during a University of Washington that continued to emanate new technologies that enabled biologists to work by a subsequent judicious steps.

Hood positively wasn’t a customarily biologist looking distant ahead, devising what these programmed collection could enable. Once biologists had a full tools list of a tellurian genome on their computers, many believed it would lead to larger bargain of disease, paving a approach for accurate diagnostics and, ultimately, “personalized medicine.”

But Hood had an scarcely transparent and inclusive perspective for how biologists could entirely feat a new instruments. His unrestrained desirous many splendid scientists to persevere themselves to his prophesy and to do their best work.

Not everybody bought what Hood was selling. Many people via his career saw a male who took extreme credit for discoveries finished by others, including immature scientists who toiled for him around a clock. Critics saw a self-promoting narcissist, someone who could be blind to a ways his actions infrequently harm people.

He had contradictions: Influenced by his teachers, Hood was dedicated to girl scholarship preparation his whole career, nonetheless he did small to coach his possess connoisseur students. He had a large ego — an “unshakable confidence,” in his possess difference — yet he was occasionally conceited or cruel, like many star scientists could be.

Passionate as he was about his vision, Hood could be strangely isolated from a people he asked to lift it out. He suspicion he was entitled to special treatment, that undone university leaders. One subordinate described Hood’s government character as “creative anarchy.” He was discerning to indicate a finger during others when things went wrong, while frequency ever revelation a mistake of his own.

Like many biotech entrepreneurs, Hood finished promises he couldn’t keep. He likely his work would lead to a personalized medicine series within a few years. It didn’t. Competitive to a core, he gathering himself to stay during a slicing edge. That meant starting mixed projects during once, removing them operational, afterwards leaping forward to a subsequent thing. He left a slow, painstaking, prudent work of scholarship to others.

Ever given James Watson and Francis Crick detected a double wind structure of DNA in 1953, a universe had been incited on to a guarantee of molecular biology. Scientists spent a final half of a 20th century drilling ever deeper into bargain one gene, and customarily a one protein combined by that gene’s instructions, during a time.

Yet during a start of a 21st century, Hood believed biology was prepared for some-more desirous goals. The time was right, he argued, for scientists to demeanour during hundreds or thousands of genes and proteins together in a formidable harmony that creates adult a whole tellurian mammal with trillions of cells. Biology, like physics, had an event to spin into “big science” — fueled by large money, large teams, and large goals.

The approach to tackle such complexity, Hood said, was by what he called “systems biology.” It was a new turn on an aged suspicion that concerned bringing scientists together from several disciplines of biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and mechanism science. He wanted a energy to partisan a right people to a University of Washington for this mission.

He wanted to select whom to sinecure and whom to fire. He indispensable a coherence to lift his possess income from rich donors. If he wanted to out-license a record for serve growth to a company, or start a new company, he didn’t wish to ask permission. Hood demanded a multimillion dollar trickery with adequate room for all of his scientists.

As negotiations during a University of Washington dragged on, Hood satisfied he wasn’t going to get what he wanted. And university officials were flourishing sap with his entrepreneurial break-all-the-rules attitude. When officials suggested he had run afoul of a new state ethics law, Hood felt threatened and embittered. Abruptly, he quit.

For his final act, Hood wanted to be a boss. In his early 60s, he motionless to give adult his dialect chairmanship and tenured expertise position. He had to start his possess investigate institute. It was time to put his income and his repute on a line.

On that murky day in Dec 1999, Hood wanted to mangle a news to Gates in person.

Straight talk

The group sat down in a integrate of gentle chairs in Gates’s bureau in Building 8 during a Microsoft campus in Redmond. Hood got fast to a point.

He’d quiescent his included Gates professorship during UW since a bureaucracy of a open establishment would never be stretchable adequate to let him grasp his goals for multidisciplinary systems biology. Hardly interlude for breath, Hood barreled by his prolonged list of grievances with administrators who didn’t share his vision. In a same breath, he rhapsodized about a event for systems biology.

The billionaire listened for a plain 15 to 20 minutes. When Hood had pronounced his piece, Gates cut to a heart of a matter.

“How are we going to account this institute?” he asked.

“Well, that’s partial of a reason I’m here…” Hood replied.

Gates interjected.

“I never account anything we consider is going to fail,” Gates said.

Hood was stunned. He hadn’t approaching Gates to dedicate on a mark to bankrolling a new institute. But he didn’t design to be flatly dismissed. Gates was a consanguine spirit, an entrepreneur, a associate desirous optimist.

Years earlier, they had connected on a safari in East Africa; Hood listened to Gates speak about a “digital divide” as hippopotamuses grunted in a night. The recruitment of Hood helped lift a University of Washington to general inflection in genomics and biotechnology during a 1990s. Given that success, Hood suspicion he could speak his crony into providing as many as $200 million for a new institute.

The oppressive truth, for Hood during least, took years to penetrate in. Gates didn’t give his hospital a penny in a initial 5 years. Their loyalty didn’t end, yet a dual group would never be utterly so tighten again.

“I really unhappy Lee,” Gates pronounced years later.

Reflecting on Hood’s separate with a university scarcely 15 years later, Gates took a nuanced view. He was intrigued by Hood’s new vision, yet he also saw because he didn’t work good with others in a university.

“He’s a smashing guy, yet a really perfectionist guy. He’s kind of a classical good scientist,” Gates said. “These things are never black and white.”

Others who were tighten to a conditions accepted because a assembly had left badly.

“This present to a University of Washington to emanate Molecular Biotechnology was certainly a biggest thing he (Gates) had finished in philanthropy,” pronounced Roger Perlmutter, a former tyro of Hood’s who went on to run RD during Amgen and Merck. “It was all finished to move Lee here. And afterwards in brief order, it unravels? It was a flog in a teeth.”

If Hood’s initial suspicion was that he had presumably shop-worn his attribute with his many critical benefactor, his second suspicion was that his prophesy was right and he indispensable to find other support. He had some income already. Much of it was by his shares in Amgen, a biotech association he suggested from a early days, and that went on to turn one of a best behaving bonds of a 1990s.

He also finished millions from royalties on DNA sequencers sole by another association he helped start — Applied Biosystems. Hood had other rich friends and companies he could call.

There was a lot to consider about over science. Even yet he was hailed as one of biotech’s good first-generation entrepreneurs, Hood had never played an executive purpose in using those enterprises.

Now, he would have to act as a startup CEO obliged for not customarily prophesy and fundraising, yet day-to-day operations. He knew he wasn’t a learned administrator. He was desirous in meetings, lacked empathy, and finished transparent to all around him that he didn’t wish to hear any bad news. He had a bad robe of avoiding supportive crew matters, like either to glow people.

None of that deterred him. Hood had always overachieved, going behind to his childhood in Montana. He craved a acclamation of others. He always found it on a football field, in a classroom, a lab, a harangue hall, and a boardroom.

When people told him he couldn’t do things, he would courage his teeth, and infer them wrong.


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