The tipping point on cancer treatment, from research labs to the top of Mount Everest

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Seattle-based iotech journalist Luke Timmerman at the summit of Oregon’s Mount Hood. He is climbing Mount Everest this spring to raise funds to support cancer research. (Photo courtesy of Luke Timmerman)

Luke Timmerman started climbing mountains with college buddies when he was in his 20s. He’s climbed Mount Rainier in Washington state (14,400 feet), Alaska’s Denali (20,000 feet) and even Argentina’s Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of Asia at 22,800 feet.

But this spring, Timmerman is setting out on a journey most people only dream of. On March 27, he leaves on a 10-week trip that will take him to the summit of Mount Everest, the tallest peak in the world at 29,029 feet. And along the way, he’s raising more than $325,000 for a cause close to his heart: Cancer research.

Timmerman is our guest on the most recent episode of the GeekWire Podcast. Listen to our conversation using the player below or subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast app.

Timmerman isn’t just a mountain climber: He’s also a lifelong biotechnology journalist, and the founder and editor of Timmerman Report, a go-to news resource for the biotech industry. Through his work, he’s gotten to know mainstays like Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, his partner in the climb and the beneficiary of the money he’s raising.

Over his career, Timmerman says he’s watched as cancer treatments have become more specialized and effective, and like many in the industry, he says the field is at a tipping point.

Timmerman dons his snowsuit, which he will wear on the summit of Everest, during the Seattle Cancer Summit in March. (GeekWire Photo / Clare McGrane)

“When I started writing about this stuff, it was more typical to have a new drug that comes out and it helps maybe 20 percent of people and it works for, say, three or four months,” Timmerman told GeekWire. “It’s not exactly the most exciting thing in the world.”

“Now we’re seeing immunotherapies that are giving us long-term remissions — still not working for everybody, but the percentages are going up,” he said.

Seattle has become a hub for these immunotherapies, particularly CAR T immunotherapies, which genetically reprogram a patient’s immune cells to find and kill cancer cells. Science from the Fred Hutch and Seattle Children’s Research Institute have given rise to several of these therapies, and Seattle biotech company Juno Therapeutics is commercializing a handful of the treatments.

“I really feel like there’s a moment in science here where we can really push on the gas, and if I could play a small part with my climb and exciting people around this moment in science, then I really ought to take advantage of it,” Timmerman said.

Aside from the exciting science and the somewhat insular world of the biotech industry, Timmerman said the project has emphasized for him just how many lives cancer touches.

“Just the other day, I had a construction worker step off of a site near the House Street Steps, where I do my regular workouts. He comes across the street to shake my hand and says, ‘I saw you on TV the other day, keep it up.’ And I thought, ‘That is so awesome,’ because here’s a guy who — he wouldn’t read my newsletter, right? It’s a newsletter aimed at biotech professionals. But cancer touches so many people, and people recognize and respect the efforts that are going on at the Fred Hutch,” Timmerman said.

Timmerman departs for Everest on March 27 and is expected to return in July. As of Tuesday morning, his campaign had raised $328,540, with a stretch goal of making it to $375,00.

His campaign is accepting donations through the end of his trip — find out how to donate and get updates on Timmerman’s climb at this link.

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