The full spectrum of scientific ingenuity

 Sally Smith Hughes is an Academic Specialist in History of Science. She studied at the University of California, Berkley. She does research in biology which reflect her areas of interest. Moreover, she published a book called Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech. This book focuses on the beginning of the company Genentech. The company struggled through various obstacles including obstacles with the government and within the company. In the prologue the author notes, “The making of Genentech was in fact racked by problems, internal and external” (i). Despite of all the obstacles, the company managed to grow and make life changing discoveries.

The two founders of Genentech Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer both worked on the basic-research techniques. However, “they immediately foresaw its practical applications in making plentiful quantities of insulin, growth hormone, and other useful substances in bacteria,” (1). This brought internal problems because they started seeing a different direction of what they wanted to discover. Some wanted to go straight to the discovery of insulin, while others wanted to discover somatostatin. Even though it wasn’t as a strong fight as the others, their differences started to show. Their problems grew when they started publishing articles, “Then a heated dispute over authorship broke out,” (65). The more they were able to do, the more complicated it became for them. Robert Swanson started helping in managing the company and focused on getting financial security for the company. Nevertheless, some did not love the way he managed things. The author notes, “As his severest critics put it, he was ‘selling out to the industry,’” (71). It is obvious that working in such a huge project isn’t easy, and all of their fights proved that.

The story follows the trails of failures and uncertainty that haunted Genentech, but ultimately paved the way for their incredible success. The start up overcame great adversities such as financial struggles, legal battles, and the actual research process. The years it took Genentech to synthesize insulin, human growth hormone, and somatostatin were fascinating to timeline, as it illustrates effectively how stressful entrepreneurship can be. The story telling side of the book was strong and followed a concise pathway, which was meant to keep the reader informed while waiting to see what was to come next. Despite its clear execution on writing style it can be difficult to become immersed in the material at hand, because this area of science is rather niche. Although the early developments of Genentech are reviewed in very close detail it would have been noteworthy to analyze some of their later accomplishments. It seems like just as the book is gaining lots of momentum it all comes to an end. Additionally, Hughes centers a lot of attention towards negotiations that don’t seem to have much significance.

An interesting aspect about the narrative was the coverage of how Genentech differentiated itself from its competitors. Genentech had a very distinct goal of developing a drug that would be sold as a product for humans. Genentech also concerned itself with the approval of the scientific community, which it established with its highly knowledgeable scientists whom wrote articles for science outlets. This methodology proved to be effective, and “the policy paid off in the high caliber scientists it helped to attract and the dividends in industrial productivity and prestige in the scientific community it ultimately reaped.” (page 101.) The balance between science and business played a major aspect throughout Genentech’s operations. Hughes did a great job at portraying the incredible accomplishments of Genentech, and did so in a way that is easily understandable to even non-scientists.

Seeing as how many of our classmates are business majors, it was interesting how the concepts of business and science were intertwined. Hughes dabbles in the business, as well as the scientific approach when creating, demoing, and marketing a product. She highlights the disconnect between the mind of a scientist, the mind of a businessman, and how the two can easily overlap. Hughes says that: “Strategic scientific, financial, and business decisions molded, shaped, stymied, and encouraged Genentech’s rise to the pinnacle of its stock…” (164), elaborating on the reoccurring theme that business plays a very large part in scientific research and discovery and how it incentivisies some firms to work better, harder, and faster. She allows the reader to make their own conclusions on whether or not the money and recognition actually does help the scientific field, but gives countless examples on how this”business” aspect per-say, affects Genentech, and science as a whole.

Hughes effectively showed two sides of the same story without losing the reader. For someone who may not know or appreciate science, this book may change that. The book does a great job of explaining complex science in a very informative and simple manner. In addition, Hughes successfully told a story that was engaging to the reader, in case the science may throw them off. Genentech was a very well rounded and entertaining book. Being able to take something from it, as well as possibly connect to it, is what would make me recommend this this book. Despite what interests you have, or what field you are in, this book has it all, and teaches you something in the process.

http://cstms.berkeley.edu/people/sally-smith-hughes/
The full spectrum of scientific ingenuity

Leave a Reply