Profiles from a Carnegie R1 Research Institution Mick Hitchcock
PROFILES FROM A CARNEGIE R1 RESEARCH INSTITUTION
an infectious passion for science
Through a series of investments, Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D.
is advancing scientific progress, capacity and understanding
by JANE TORS '82
Mick Hitchcock ’17 (Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters) views his investment in the infrastructure for science and research as “essentially building capabilities on a wider ranging scale."
Of the worldwide scientific response to the novel coronavirus he said, “It came out of nowhere, but if you build the infrastructure, you are ready for what comes next. It will be useful when a challenge or opportunity pops up."
This was evident as several areas of scientific expertise on campus — each supported by Hitchcock — were ready to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hitchcock invested in development of the University’s super-charged, high-performance computing cluster, Pronghorn — named for the American antelope, the fastest mammal on the North American continent. He invested in development of the Nevada Genomics Center and the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D. Nevada Proteomics Center, which are core laboratories available to researchers University-wide and to industry as well. His gift to the Nevada Newborn Screening Fund supports that specific program and helped build the capabilities of the Nevada State Public Health Lab, based in the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine.
When the pandemic hit, these services were ready to provide testing, data analysis, genetic sequencing and scientific leadership to understand the incidence, spread and evolution of the virus in Nevada. Beyond the pandemic, this scientific infrastructure is supporting innumerable research endeavors, as well as the University’s capacity as an “R1,” comprehensive/doctoral university with very high research activity, as classified by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
Recently, Hitchcock has trained his sights on bolstering scientific understanding at the community level. A visual learner himself, he funded The Hitchcock Project for Visualizing Science in the Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism. Launched in 2018, the initiative prepares students, journalists, scientists and others to present science in visual and creative forms.
A biochemist and microbiologist specializing in the development of antiviral therapeutics, Mick Hitchcock ’17 (Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters) worked for more than 40 years in the biopharmaceutical industry and played a key role in developing groundbreaking HIV drugs.
Hitchcock most recently served as senior advisor to Gilead Sciences, Inc. Prior to his 26 years with Gilead, Hitchcock spent 12 years at Bristol Myers Squibb, and later developed Viread with his former colleague, John Martin. Viread is a once-daily pill to treat HIV. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2001, it led to the “single-tablet regimen” concept for antiviral treatment, which now allows AIDS patients to effectively treat symptoms with ease.
Hitchcock earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in biochemistry at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and a Ph.D. in microbiology at The University of Melbourne. He currently serves as a member of the University’s College of Science Advisory Council and 2020 chair of the University of Nevada, Reno Foundation. Hitchcock was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2017.
“We have some of the smartest people the planet has ever seen working in science, but scientists are not always prepared to engage society in their work”
“We have some of the smartest people the planet has ever seen working in science, but scientists are not always prepared to engage society in their work,” Hitchcock said. “There’s a gap in terms of what we do in the sciences and what the average person understands. Science needs support, but it will only be supported if it is understood.”
And then there is his passion for the multidisciplinary approach, as epitomized by the Hitchcock Center for Chemical Ecology that brings together faculty from many colleges and fields including chemistry, biology, ecology, medicine, agriculture and mathematics. Through teaching and research, this center is exploring biological diversity, natural-products chemistry and related work in environmental settings around the world, including the Great Basin.
“The big issues are not solved in a single lab. Collaborations are the wave of the future,” Hitchcock said. “Chemical ecology brings together a lot of people. The professors are excited about it, and any time you have people doing research in areas they are excited about, it attracts students because they get excited. When you have a whole team of diverse thinkers pushing forward, it makes learning and research all the more special.”
Hitchcock began his interest in science as a boy, as he was “scratching around in the dirt, finding butterflies and snakes” in his native England. But it was during his university days, studying biochemistry at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, where his view changed.
“You start by thinking science is learning a bunch of facts. Then, it suddenly occurs to you that it’s how they are connected,” he said. “You begin to ask questions about how things work. That was probably the biggest thing to me, coming to understand it’s a series of thoughts that are connected. There is a rationale, and then you build from there.”
The same idea applies to his giving. Hitchcock said some may see an unrelated series of gifts, but for Hitchcock, it all connects and builds. For science to have the most impact, the most far-reaching success, a web of understanding, engagement and support is required.
The list of University programs supported by and named for Hitchcock continues: His first gift to the University in 2013 established the Michael (Mick) J.M. Hitchcock, Ph.D. Graduate Assistants Fund to help support graduate assistants’ research to counteract the impact of budget cuts following the Great Recession, and he established the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D. Endowed Chair in Medical Biochemistry and the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D. Undergraduate Microbiology Teaching Laboratory Renovation Fund.
“He extends our view of possibilities; his excitement is contagious,” said Mridul Gautam, vice president for Research & Innovation. “Mick has expanded this University’s research capacity and the competitiveness of our faculty.”
“One of the things I also see as a longer-term value of my work is helping Nevada have a greater recognition of what goes on at the University and its contribution to the economy and the region itself,” said Hitchcock. “There’s a lot of good science going on here.”