Q&A with Fred Hutch’s new chief data officer on building a data ecosystem at an institutional scale

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Incoming Fred Hutch Chief Data Officer Jeffrey Leakes. (Photo courtesy of Leak)

Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has recruited a new vice president and chief data officer: biostatisticians and data science educators. Jeffrey Leek, Leaks will start on July 1 in newly formed position, Hutchho announced on Tuesday,

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Leek will leave his current position as professor of biostatistics and oncology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and will be its co-director. data science lab,

He develops tools to help understand massive genomic and biomedical data and helps design the online learning program that has enrolled more than 8 million people. he also directs data trail, which trains and supports communities underserved to work in data science, and co-founded the 2020 data management startup streamlining data science,


The leak will arrive at Hutch as the institute works on a newly proposed partnership structure with UW Medicine, Seattle Children’s and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and that will shape an integrated data enterprise.

His move is in some ways a homecoming – the Idaho native earned his Ph.D. Relationships are maintained with and regional researchers at the University of Washington. He will also join the Fred Hutch faculty as a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences.

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We spoke with Fred Hutch at Leakes about his plans, how he sees the institute integrating into the tech and entrepreneurship community, and his plans to expand data science education. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

GeekWire: Congratulations on the new gig, Jeffrey. What are you most excited about?

Jeffrey Leakes: I am excited about the prospect of building a data ecosystem at the institutional level. I’ve been leading the Johns Hopkins Data Science Lab here for the past few years, and we do a lot of infrastructure development and data management training, largely online open courses, on Coursera. This opportunity is a way to take that thinking to an institutional level and help everyone at Hutch make access to data that is more efficient, easier and fun. The researchers out there are total world class, and it’s fun to imagine the new collaborations we’re going to be building. It’s also incredibly compelling to be part of the greater Seattle data and tech ecosystem.

Geekwire: What goes into building a data ecosystem?

Green Onion: It’s about setting up the right technologies, making the data easy to use, creating the right ethical and privacy concerns, and then training people to use the data in a way they might not have been able to do before. . And so, all of this together creates an environment where you can accelerate a whole bunch of different types of research, from cancer research to infectious diseases, everything across the board.

Geekwire: What are the opportunities in Seattle-area research institutions bringing data together?

Green Onion: The data that is being collected about all the different treatments and protocols in these institutions can be brought together in a way that allows us to do large-scale analysis, to identify which treatments are which. Work within sub-populations and identify hypotheses for the future to follow along with. Research. The real excitement around this is being able to leverage data from those institutions to answer some of the questions that are really hard to answer on the scale of an institution. When you have a rare event or side effect, it’s hard to see.

(Fred Hutch photo)

Geekwire: How do you see Fred Hutch integrate into the larger tech and entrepreneurship community?

Green Onion: Hutch is really wondering where the points lie for a mutually beneficial relationship between the institution and private partners — whether it’s in helping investors spin up ideas focused on data science, or by expanding the size and scope of analysis. Talking about potential partners. that we can. You want to be very careful to maintain the trust of the non-profit enterprise, as well as exploring ways to best use private infrastructure to collaborate to create better solutions for patients. Navigating is a difficult task.

Geekwire: How do you see Hutch working with smaller startups versus bigger players like Amazon and Microsoft?

Green Onion: There are certainly differences and opportunities out there. With large companies, my experience has been, and what I’m looking forward to doing, is starting with smaller points of contact. So, you find a researcher who has a really serious need, like scaling a dashboard with infectious disease data for a larger community, or maybe you have a large-scale technology partner, who already have existing technologies. And then once you’ve built that first relationship, you can go out there to identify other places where you can grow. I’ve found that what really likes firelight is identifying people who think of a common problem and motivating them to work together and create solutions to it. And then giving the institutional support behind it can really spread good ideas to the masses.

Geekwire: Can you elaborate on Hutch’s role in partnering with or fostering startups?

Green Onion: There’s everything from licensing technologies to identifying ways to support trainees who see themselves growing into a more startup-like community rather than going into academia. How do we build that support infrastructure, so that people with that kind of passion are able to do it? It’s all about building relationships between people who want to solve similar problems. I think there is a lot of room for creativity, especially at the interface between biotechnology and data science within the data, machine learning and AI space.

Geekwire: Tell us more about your outreach efforts with Data Trail and how you think it will fit into your work in Seattle.

Green Onion: The vast majority of people taking online open courses are already well-educated, as are those at the master’s level trying to change careers. And so we started thinking about how we could build a program that would bring people from the community into the data enterprise at Hopkins. We’ve created a training program designed for basic data science and data management, and we’ve partnered with community-based nonprofits to identify talented math and science students in our neighborhood. We put them through a learning program where we’ll pay them to complete courses, provide them with laptops, and work with nonprofit partners to provide social and financial support. We worked with Johns Hopkins to come in as entry-level data science and data managers, and built this path into the Johns Hopkins ecosystem. I’m really excited to see the data trail grow in Seattle. We are looking forward to rolling it out to other locations across the country as well.

Geekwire: final thoughts?

Green Onion: One of the things I would really love to do in terms of the tech ecosystem is to start building relationships with people who are passionate about cancer research and open source data science training, things I’ve talked about in the ecosystem. has spoken. I look forward to being an active participant in that system and the people there. I hope people on that side will contact me if they are excited to work with us, and I plan to go in the other direction as well.

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