Costco founder and boyhood friend give $50 million for precision medicine at UW

Among the goals of the new institute are more sophisticated gene tests for breast cancer and improved screening for children with genetic disease.

Costco co-founder Jeff Brotman and Dan Baty met as kids on a playground in Tacoma and remained lifelong friends. Before Brotman’s death in August, the two businessmen and their wives decided to share some of their wealth and pursue a common interest in health care.

The result is a $50 million gift to create the Brotman Baty Institute for Personalized Medicine in Seattle and pursue one of the most sought-after and elusive goals in science: Treatments tailored to individual patients.

The institute will be a collaboration between the University of Washington, The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s, and will work to translate cutting-edge research into improved diagnosis and therapy.

Baty, whose Columbia Pacific Management, Inc. specializes in hospitals, senior housing and assisted living, recalled the first time Brotman called him about the idea.

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“He asked: How cool would it be for two guys from Tacoma to create this institute?” Baty said in a statement.

The project mirrors a national Precision Medicine Initiative created by President Barack Obama and supported by President Donald Trump. Among the national initiative’s signature goals is compiling a database of genetic, health and lifestyle information from more than 1 million volunteers to help tease out links between individual variations and disease.

“The typical patient doesn’t really exist, yet for a century medicine has focused on diagnosing and treating typical patients,” said UW geneticist Jay Shendure, leader of the new institute and an adviser to the national initiative.

Precision medicine delves into an individual’s genetic code to uncover characteristics of their illness and the best approach to fighting it. The use of genetic screening to identify people at high risk of some cancers is an early example of precision medicine. Another is the use of sensitivity tests to determine the optimum doses of certain drugs, like the anti-clotting agent warfarin.

Now, the advent of cheap genetic sequencing and the development of new gene-editing tools are allowing researchers to refine those approaches and develop entirely new ones.

“The rate at which we’re learning is tremendous, and accelerating,” Shendure…

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