Learn what inspires Fred Hutch scientists to find the next big breakthrough.
As a scientist, Dr. Larry Corey has led some of the most significant advances in medicine in the last 30 years: the development of safe and effective antivirals for herpes viruses, HIV, and hepatitis infections. Now as president and director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, he is helping to drive lifesaving discoveries across a broad spectrum of diseases.
An international expert in virology, immunology and vaccine development, Corey made a major discovery in the early 1980s when he demonstrated the effectiveness of the world’s first antiviral therapy (acyclovir) for the treatment of herpes simplex virus-2 (genital herpes). Working with Dr. Gertrude Elion (the inventor of acyclovir) at Burroughs-Wellcome, Corey was the first to give patients oral antivirals for an extended time safely and effectively. At the time, many scientists believed such specific and safe antiviral drugs were not achievable.
“It was a very heretical concept at the time,” Corey said. “But the road that we created in herpes is the road that was followed for HIV, cytomegalovirus, hepatitis B and now hepatitis C. There is nothing that has impacted the lives of more people than antivirals, especially those for HIV.” That first use of antivirals sparked a wave of research that continues to deliver promising results today.
In 1987, Corey directed the AIDS Clinical Trials Group and under his leadership the antiretroviral drug AZT, which reduces maternal-fetal HIV transmission, was developed, as was the demonstration that combination antiviral therapy could markedly extend life expectancy of HIV-infected individuals. His numerous contributions to the field of HIV research include the discovery that HSV-2 can make people more susceptible to HIV infection, as well as the development of a global clinical trials group to speed the discovery of HIV vaccines.
Corey is currently the principal investigator of the Fred Hutch-based HIV Vaccine Trials Network, the largest international effort dedicated to developing an HIV vaccine. Through his herpes virus research and experience working in industry and academia, Corey identified a need to directly support large-scale clinical trials with laboratory and statistical analysis efforts. Corey led the effort to integrate these resources and assemble the team behind HVTN, which is now considered to be the model for global scientific collaboration.
Corey is also among a team of Hutchinson Center researchers who have taken a comprehensive approach to reducing the risk of dangerous complications for transplant patients. Corey worked on developing tests for the detection of the Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus and respiratory diseases—infections that can pose a life threatening danger to transplant patients with compromised immune systems. A study by Hutchinson Center researchers determined this collective work has increased long-term survival rates for transplant patients by 41 percent.
“We have changed infections in the transplant patient. It’s a quiet breakthrough that we have led,” Corey said.
As director and president, Corey no longer wants the Center’s breakthroughs to be kept quiet. He has encouraged staff and faculty to become more vocal advocates of the Center’s research achievements and impact on eliminating cancer and other diseases.
Corey has also led an effort to identify and prioritize the Center’s strategic research goals. These priorities include developing new immunotherapies to treat cancers, discovering an HIV/AIDS vaccine and improving cancer prevention, early detection and treatment services in order to reduce the economic and human burden of cancer. These goals promise to keep the Hutchinson Center at the forefront of research breakthroughs for years to come.
Corey says the opportunity to make numerous research breakthroughs, and now to lead them as the head of one of the world’s leading research centers, is something he is grateful for every day.
“I wouldn’t trade what I have done in a heartbeat. I am a lucky man.”