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One on One with...Daniel C. Lewis

Daniel C. and Martina Lewis

Dan and Martina Lewis

Daniel C. Lewis gives back to the science that helped save his life

The previous issue of Inside Salk featured an interview with Salk professor Tony Hunter, whose discovery of tyrosine kinases, enzymes that regulate cellular growth, ultimately led to the cancer-fighting drug Gleevec. One of the people who benefited from Hunter's discovery was Daniel C. Lewis, the newest member of Salk's board of trustees. In 2004, Lewis was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, which before Gleevec had only a 50 percent cure rate. Now Lewis's cancer is under control. Before joining the board, Lewis had been a member of Salk's International Council for over ten years. Lewis and his wife, Martina, recently established the Daniel and Martina Lewis Chair, currently held by Geoff M. Wahl, a professor in the Institute's Gene Expression Laboratory.

As the former president of Booz & Company, where he worked for 32 years, Lewis traveled all over the world, but he grew up in the northern Illinois city of Rockford, where a winter temperature of 30 degrees Fahrenheit is considered warm. It's no wonder he chose to retire in temperate La Jolla. From their home, he and Martina enjoy a sweeping coastal view, which includes Salk's iconic towers.

But "retirement" is something of a misnomer. In addition to serving on Salk's board of trustees, he is also a trustee at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where he received an MBA. Lewis also serves on the Executive Council of the College of Technology at Purdue University, his undergraduate alma mater, and is a member of the World Economic Forum. When he does take part in an activity associated with retirement—fishing—it's in competitions for marlins the size of Volkswagen Beetles.

As a beneficiary of a key Salk discovery and a prominent contributor to Salk, Lewis shared his unique perspective on the Institute, the Campaign for Salk and its promise for impacting human health.

How did you become involved in the Salk Institute?

I had two major things in my life that brought me to Salk. Joe [C. Arnold] Kalman, my mentor at Booz, was on the Salk International Council. Joe was a very direct mentor. He said, "You're a very senior guy. You live in La Jolla. You need to be involved in something as important as the Salk Institute." He introduced me to Salk, I attended some scientific presentations, visited some labs, and I was hooked.

The second major thing was that I found I had leukemia, and the form of leukemia I have is the kind that was cured by Tony Hunter's tyrosine kinase work. My health is fine now. Gleevec is unique in the world of cancer; it's been very successful. There are now some subsequent drugs, because these cancers never stay still, they mutate. But I'm blessed to have had this cancer at a time when the research had been done. Gleevec had been approved as a drug in 2000, and I was diagnosed in 2004. I've had quite a few years now of basically cancer-free life as a result of the drug, and that endeared me even more to Salk and made me feel closer in many ways.

After I retired, my wife and I decided to give back in a bigger way than we'd been giving. Geoff Wahl is the first holder of the oncology chair we donated. That was one of the chairs made possible by Irwin and Joan Jacobs. Their matching grant was the difference between doing it and not doing it.

As the former president of the world's oldest management consulting firm, do you have advice you can give to scientists about project management?

I specialized in commercial aviation, which includes the global airlines and airplane manufacturers, so my expertise is quite different. In manufacturing, they rely on well-tested and proven scientific laws and principles. By contrast, Salk's focus is on basic research, which writes or rewrites the rules. Much of the methodology is crafted by scientists' shared experience in how to ask the right kinds of scientific questions and set up the right kinds of experimentation. I genuinely think there's a special process that has been perfected at Salk by breaking down departmental boundaries and using shared services, like the scientific facilities cores—things that make it a particularly effective place to do research.

By the way, speaking of "oldest," did you know that Booz was founded the same year that Jonas Salk was born? We're both celebrating centenaries next year.

San Diego has a strong tradition of biotech entrepreneurship. Do you have any guidance for scientists who may be thinking of creating startups?

The people who ought to be giving that advice are Bill Brody and Irwin Jacobs!

I don't believe there's a better management combo you could have put together for Salk. It's really a phenomenal thing and a blessing to have two very prominent, successful innovators team up in a way that has paid big dividends for Salk. I think Salk is a unique place; it's very professionally and efficiently run. What the trustees can do is ask questions and bring all kinds of different experience and serve important roles in fundraising.

We hear your hobby is sport fishing.

When you do the kinds of things that I've been doing in a professional career, you really only have time for one great passion, and this is it! I have a sport fishing boat in Cabo San Lucas, and I fish in marlin tournaments. In one respect, ocean fishing for marlin is not that different from any other kind of fishing—it's not that difficult to reel them in, if you've got the right kind of gear. The hard part is getting them to bite in the first place, and you've got a lot more area to cover!

I once brought in a 762-pound blue marlin. It's a pretty good size, but they get bigger. My goal is to land a 1000-pounder. I have a 500-pound marlin on my wall; it's the only one I've ever mounted. Most of the time, we release these fish, because it's incredibly important to preservation.

Is there a link among your interests?

The common thread is passion. And the other common thread is leadership. Both of those skills are required to be able to compete, whether it's in business or science or fishing.

One final question, do you have specific recommendations for the Campaign's success?

I think education is key. While people know Jonas Salk's name and how he was essentially able to eradicate polio, the science has moved on in an incredible way, so that the discoveries today are groundbreaking in so many places, from plant biology to neurogenetics. The Campaign is showing what an important asset Salk is to the San Diego community and beyond. Salk is a very special place. The best way to get people to give money to Salk is to get them to Salk.