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Fred Hutch and Amazon collaborating on clinical trial to test vaccines against cancer – GeekWire


The Arnold Building on the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center campus. (Fred Hutch Photo)

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center is leveraging Amazon’s machine learning expertise to collaborate on an early-stage clinical trial testing an anti-cancer vaccine in patients with certain types of breast cancer or melanoma.

The trial was posted on a government clinical trial database in October and will explore the safety of the vaccine, which will be personalized for patients with late-stage melanoma or metastatic breast cancer that does not have the marker HER2.

Business Insider first reported on the trial Monday, and Amazon and Fred Hutch verified the collaboration with GeekWire. Fred Hutch is leading the effort and Amazon is a partner.

Neither Amazon or the Fred Hutch specified whether the trial was part of a wider collaboration.

“The Fred Hutch has been fortunate to have long-term partnerships with Amazon, Microsoft and other innovative technology companies,” said Matt McIlwain, managing director of Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group and a member of the Fred Hutch advisory board. He served as board chair at Fred Hutch until 2020.

Madrona Managing Director Matt McIlwain. (Madrona Photo)

Amazon’s partnership with Fred Hutch has ranged from its lead sponsorship of Fred Hutch’s Obliteride charity bicycle event, to collaborations on AWS services like Medical Comprehend, a natural language processing service on AWS suited for extracting meaning from text in documents.

“The Fred Hutch relationship with Amazon and AWS deepened the past several years with the board involvement of Mike Clayville and Sean Boyle as well as many other Amazon current and former employees,” noted McIlwain. The Fred Hutch board of directors includes Boyle, Amazon’s former vice president of finance, and its advisory board includes Clayville, previously vice president of worldwide field operations at Amazon Web Services.

Amazon has deepened its involvement in health care over the last few years. It acquired online pharmacy PillPack in 2019 and released a COVID-19 test available through its website during the pandemic. Amazon Care, the company’s primary care business, is one of the company’s top priorities, CEO Andy Jassy reportedly said at an Amazon meeting in March.  

According to Business Insider, the cancer vaccine effort is led within Amazon by a cancer research team that reports to Robert Williams, Amazon’s vice president of devices. The effort was previously part of a secretive research group, the Grand Challenge, said Insider.

Neither Fred Hutch or Amazon would clarify their financial or intellectual property relationship. The vaccine trial will also assess anti-tumor response and survival as secondary outcome measurements.

“This will be a long, multi-year process — should it progress, we would be open to working with other organizations in health care and life sciences that might also be interested in similar efforts,” said an Amazon spokesperson.

McIlwain said more collaborations are likely on deck to help Fred Hutch sift through vast datasets.

“As Amazon has become more involved with health care and the Hutch continues to lead in innovative cancer treatments and cures, partnerships like the cancer vaccine clinical trials referenced this week are likely to expand,” said McIlwain.


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