The Seattle area is known as a medical research powerhouse, and Jeff Brotman, the late founder of Costco, had always envisioned an entity that would take advantage of the unique research strengths of our region.
“One of Jeff’s passions was breaking down walls between investigators and between institutions,” says Jay Shendure, MD, PhD, UW Medicine genome scientist and director of the Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine.
Brotman’s longtime friend, Dan Baty, shared that vision. In 2017, thanks to the philanthropic leadership of Jeff and Susan Brotman and Dan and Pam Baty, the Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine (BBI) was launched. It would combine the research strengths of its three co-founding institutions: UW Medicine, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s.
Soon after, another local visionary, Bill Gates, foresaw the need to better prepare cities for the possibility of a pandemic. Fortunately, a few key investigators were already laying the groundwork.
Mike Famulare, PhD, a principal research scientist at the Institute for Disease Modeling, and his colleagues had suggested a pilot for a respiratory disease testing platform that could monitor seasonal transmission of viruses and help prepare for a pandemic. At the same time, Trevor Bedford, PhD, a researcher with Fred Hutch and Nextstrain, was discussing how to accelerate genomic sequencing of pathogens and better map their spread.
Working together with Gates Ventures (Gates’ private office), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Dr. Paul Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine, the teams eventually joined forces. The Seattle Flu Study was launched by the BBI in 2018 with funding from Gates Ventures.
“Given that the Seattle Flu Study involved investigators from several institutions, this was kind of the poster child for the BBI,” says Shendure, one of nine principal investigators for the study. They chose to focus on influenza viruses not only because they are seasonal, but also because many in the field saw respiratory viruses as a likely source of the next pandemic.