They were two kids from Tacoma, friends since they were 5 and 6 years old. Both of them entered the business world: one, the late Jeffrey H. Brotman, trained as a lawyer then became the co-founder of Costco Wholesale; the other, Daniel R. Baty, founded Columbia Pacific Management, Inc., and Columbia Pacific Advisors, LLC.
By any measure, these two men have been wildly successful. But with all their achievements, no achievement is likely to be as significant as their creation of the Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine (the BBI).
The friends started discussing the gift that would establish the BBI in 2017.
“Jeff called me,” says Baty. “He asked, how great would it be for two guys from Tacoma to create this institute?”
And on Dec. 6, 2017, the Brotman and Baty families made their gifts public at a ceremony that included keynote speaker Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, as well as taped video messages from President Barack Obama and Bill Gates.
Precise Medicine, Together
Historically, medicine has focused on developing treatments that work for an “average” patient. Precision medicine, which takes into account variation found in a person’s genes, environment and lifestyle, is a new approach to disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
Jay Shendure, M.D., Ph.D., UW professor of genome sciences and the scientific director of the Brotman Baty Institute, notes that the work has already begun. “There are incredible researchers in the Seattle area,” he says. “The institute is bringing them together to do science that we wouldn’t be able to do in individual labs.”
Collaboration is key to the new institute. Researchers at UW Medicine, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s will work together to conduct basic science investigations, create and refine precision medicine approaches, and boost technology and information-sharing.
“The BBI is taking on relevant, fascinating topics,” says Paul G. Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine. “By classifying cell types, figuring out which genetic variations are likely to increase cancer risk and speeding up diagnoses for children with genetic diseases, among other projects, the institute is going to move medicine forward in a tremendous way.”
The Long View
Shendure takes the long view of the institute’s work. Some patients will benefit relatively quickly from studies in genetic variation and children’s diseases. Other work, especially in the basic sciences, will take more time. This outlook makes sense to Dan Baty and his wife, Pam.
“In business, you make plans for both the next few months and the next few years,” Baty says. “While we hope our investment will lead to results in the short term, we know it will pay enormous dividends in the long run.”
The institute’s opening, though cause for celebration, was tempered by loss: Jeff Brotman died on Aug. 1, 2017, just a few months earlier. “He was excited about what precision medicine will accomplish in the prevention and treatment of diseases,” says Susan Brotman, his wife of 41 years.
“I don’t think I said this to Jeff, but I wish I had,” says Shendure. “I wish I’d told him that we’ll be good stewards of these gifts. It’s our hope that the institute’s impact, scientifically and to patients, will be returned many times over.”