Genentech: When Science Stumbles into Business

Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech, by Sally Smith Hughes, is an incredibly informative book about the unorthodox creation and ingenuity of the company Genentech, Inc. This book, albeit slow and clunky to read at times, reveals to its readers the minutiaes, controversies, and successes of business, biotechnology, genetics, biology, corporations, patenting, politics, and academia when they are all mixed together. Hughes’ book is aimed at the scientific community, and anyone else who may be interested in science: notably genetics and biotechnology. The single commanding genre of this book would definitely be associated with genetic innovation in the field of biotechnology. Hughes does an adequate job at bringing to light the revolutionary breakthrough and aftermath of recombinant DNA discovery and research in the mid-1970s. Continue reading “Genentech: When Science Stumbles into Business”

Genentech: When Science Stumbles into Business

Innovation Realized

Sally Smith Hughes‘s “Genetech: The Beginnings of Biotech” is a very informative look into the world of biotechnology specifically the highs and lows of the biotech company Genetech.  Ms. Hughes is a very successful writer as she has written several books about science, specifically about the biotech industry. “Genetech: The Beginnings of Biotech” is her most recent book as she has previously written “The Virus: A History of the Concept” (Heinemann, 1997) and “Making Dollars out of DNA: The First Major Patent in Biotechnology and the Commercialization of Molecular Biology, 1974-1980”. Ms. Hughes currently works at the University of California, Berkeley where she continues her work on the history of science. In each of Hughes’s books there is a strong focus on a certain area of science such as patents or viruses. However, in this case the focus is on Genetech a revolutionary biotech company. Throughout the story the audience learns what goes on to make such a profitable biotech company and the various obstacles in their way. Continue reading “Innovation Realized”

Innovation Realized

The Birth of a New Industry: The Rise of Genentech

In her book Genentech, Sally Smith Hughes tells the story of the rise of the biotech giant Genentech. Hughes is a historian of biomedicine and biotechnology at the Bancroft Library at the University of California Berkeley. She takes us through the tumultuous early years of Genentech’s history, showing how the company grew from a trio of founders to a massive organization that made a fortune through the stock market. From Herb Boyer and Stanley Cohen’s development of recombinant DNA, to Tom Perkins and Bob Swanson offering Genentech as an IPO, Hughes makes a great effort to describe every major step that Genentech had to take and every hurdle they had to pass to find both commercial and scientific success. When a new person enters the company, Hughes describes them in detail, and her descriptions present these entrepreneurs and scientists as likeable characters who truly care about the work they do. She skillfully and simply describes both the complex science behind Genentech’s research and the caveats of the business world, which helped Genentech grow and succeed financially. To enhance the quality of the Genentech story, the book is filled with many photographs of the people discussed in the book as well as a few diagrams that add explanations of various scientific concepts such as DNA recombination. In this short but interesting book, Hughes provides insight into the origins of the biotechnology industry, as well as introduces readers to some of the problems early innovators in the industry had to face. Continue reading “The Birth of a New Industry: The Rise of Genentech”

The Birth of a New Industry: The Rise of Genentech

Genentech: History of Biotechnology

Sally Smith Hughes writes, Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech, a historical account about the rise of Genentech Inc. Hughes takes the reader from the beginnings of biotech in 1973, to Genentech’s creation by Robert A. Swanson and Herbert Boyer, to its Wall Street debut in 1980. Hughes is a science historian at the University of California, Berkeley contributing over 150 oral histories[1] to the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley; additionally Hughes also wrote The Virus: A History of the Concept[2]. Genentech tells the story of how a multiplicity of perspectives and personalities can affect the growth of science; and how outside sources of control and regulation, by government and private sector, can help or hamper progress in commercial and university scientific research. Continue reading “Genentech: History of Biotechnology”

Genentech: History of Biotechnology

Genentech: A Visionary Company

Sally Smith Hughes lays out the history of one of biotechnologies most important and influential companies, Genentech. From the founders early days through their most important discoveries the self explaining title Genentech, the Beginnings of Biotech, tells of how Genentech was founded in South San Francisco. According to Hughes “Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech is the story of a pioneering genetic-engineering company that inspired a new industrial sector, transforming the biomedical and commercial landscapes ever after”(VIII). By becoming the first in the industry to synthesize insulin and Human Growth Hormone, Genentech placed themselves in history. Hughes writing tells of a new creation,  “the entrepreneurial biologist” and the “intimate and people centered history traces the seminal early years of a company that devised new models for biomedical research”(xi). The importance of Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen in the field of biotechnology is repeatedly emphasized in Hughes’s words. This non-fiction history of Genentech is laid out for you by a leading historian of science and the University of California at Berkeley. Often, the existence of insulin for diabetics, or HGH for those who suffer from other disabilities, is taken for granted. Genentech tells the story of the struggle to recreate such complicated bio-medications. Continue reading “Genentech: A Visionary Company”

Genentech: A Visionary Company

Genentech: A Science-Business Hybrid

Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech is a book that tells the story of how Genentech, one of the first biotechnology companies, was founded.  It tells the story of how “The company inspired a new industrial sector transforming the biomedical and commercial landscapes ever after” (Hughes Prologue 1). It is written by Sally Smith Hughes, a historian of science at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of The Virus: A History of the Concept and Making Dollars out of DNA: The First Major Patent in Biotechnology and the Commercialization of Molecular Biology (“Sally Smith Hughes” 2012). She has lots of experience detailing the history of scientific processes and companies as she is also the creator of an extensive collection of in-depth oral histories on bioscience, biomedicine, and biotechnology. This shows in her book about Genentech, as she is able to provide lots of information on the key figures in the company’s start-up, such as Herb Boyer, Stanley Cohen, and Robert Swanson. She is also able to describe the scientific processes that made the company successful such as the use and discovery of recombinant DNA. Continue reading “Genentech: A Science-Business Hybrid”

Genentech: A Science-Business Hybrid

The Success of Genentech: Integrating Science, Law, and Corporate Business

      Do you ever wonder what it takes for a company to be successful? Sally Smith Hughes’ book, Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech, answers this question with an inside look at the makings of Genentech, a California-based biotech company, and their quest to make human insulin and growth hormone commercialized. Hughes has established herself as an academic scholar through her study of the history of science and her oral stories such as “Making Dollars out of DNA: The First Major Patent in Biotechnology and the Commercialization of Molecular Biology” as she looks into discoveries and commercialization (Berkeley). Similarly, in Genentech, she integrates scientific, legal and corporate ideas to portray the biotech startup and challenges it faced. The most important challenges are competition, patentability, and partnerships with corporate companies, all of which Hughes uses to give readers who are unfamiliar with these fields a better understanding. Continue reading “The Success of Genentech: Integrating Science, Law, and Corporate Business”

The Success of Genentech: Integrating Science, Law, and Corporate Business

GENENTECH: A NEW APPROACH OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERING NEW MEDICINES

In Sally Smith Hughes book, Genentech, readers learn about a small genetic engineering company whose name became known after one biochemical invention. The use of biotechnology to invent a better system of creating pharmaceutical drugs for distribution had been a goal for many biotech companies. Genentech was the first company to pioneer recombinant DNA technology to manufacture a crucial hormone our body needs in order to regulate sugar intake. Before this innovation, insulin was collected from the pancreas of pigs and used to treat people with diabetes. By using biological machinery that naturally occurs in bacteria, scientist Herbert W. Boyer and Stanley Cohen were able to manipulate its biological software to produce human hormones. Once their breakthrough was known, Robert A. Swanson, a young entrepreneur, joined the team of scientist and created a business which is now Genentech. This was not Hughes first encounter with the company’s technology. Before publishing the history of this company, she published a novel with Boyer himself called Recombinant DNA Research at UCSF and Commercial Application at Genentech: Oral history Transcript, in 2001. Already being familiar with the technology, she was able to craft together the birth of Genentech by giving detailed descriptions of its co-founders, details of their innovations, and the business aspect that went into creating the company. This book is a great read for those interested in learning how biotechnology has evolved into one of the tools we now use to create better pharmaceuticals. Continue reading “GENENTECH: A NEW APPROACH OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERING NEW MEDICINES”

GENENTECH: A NEW APPROACH OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERING NEW MEDICINES

Universities’ Role in Biotechnology

In the beginning of Genentech, the founders- Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen- are introduced to us. After a brief introduction to their childhoods and what motivated them to pursue biochemistry, genetics, and biotechnology. Hughes shifts her focus to their research years. Academic Institutions, such as UCSF, start by receiving a profit from researchers from small companies that use the universities’ labs and resources through a grant. However, the staff, faculty, and researchers at such institutions are not the most welcoming.

“Unbeknownst to Genentech, the pharmaceutical giant had previously sealed an agreement with the University of California. Lillly and UC concluded a $13 million =, five-year agreement on the complementary DNA cloning and expression of human insulin and human growth hormone. (Hughes 94)

Here is the purpose of Research Universities is explained. This can give us more understanding as to why Genentech was making this big move. To conclude, in the world of patents, the process of becoming official is tough. The focus on the Genentech’s partnered research universities is to discover the Human genome hormone and insulin. Typically, this is why there is an emphasis on the professors and less on the undergraduates.

Universities’ Role in Biotechnology

Exit Strategies

In chapter 6, the subject of “exit strategies” are discussed. The process is explained as such:

“Genentech would stage a public stock offering. Through one or the other of these “exit strategies”…Kleiner & Perkins and its co-investors would “cash in”, and in so doing fulfill their primary responsibilities: to recoup for their fund investors and for themselves their original investment” (Hughes 140)

It is interesting to see the business behind intellectual companies and research facilities such as Genentech. I knew the purpose of many companies was research, but I didn’t release how tightly woven the business aspect was. It make sense because in order to receive grants and keep the research facility, or pharmaceutical company,  open there must be a good investment with good owners who can keep the place running. New ideas must come up so they stay valuable. This is also in the hope that the companies’ success will lead to potential marketing to different industries.

Exit Strategies

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. Continue reading “The full spectrum of scientific ingenuity”

The full spectrum of scientific ingenuity

Biotech and Business: The emergence of private sector Biology

           Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech by Sally Smith Hughes is an engaging look at the birth of a new type of industry, the field of biotechnology. Research with the natural sciences has always been an academic pursuit, to figure out how the world and everything in it functions. However, in the 1970s, as biology and chemistry continued to develop alongside technology, business was bound to get involved. Hughes, as a scientific historian from the hotbed of technology and biotech in California, details the entire life of the first Biotech company, Genentech. Her genealogy of the story on this small, yet influential company begins with the technique of producing recombinant DNA and the capacity to produce a large amount of clones of the desired DNA. From this scientific breakthrough, a few key players would emerge, and eventually start Genentech, with a goal of using recombinant DNA to make industrial products. Continue reading “Biotech and Business: The emergence of private sector Biology”

Biotech and Business: The emergence of private sector Biology

A symbiotic relationship

“One of the mistakes [Cetus] made was not to realize the enormous leverage you get from using a university laboratory…It is enormously cost effective. You’re  using labs and other goodies that are already there; you don’t have to raise money and spend money to establish them'(50)” (Hughes, 64)”

 

It seems to me that the relationship between business and universities is partly symbiotic. The businesses need to invest less money that if they were to start their own labs, and the professors maintain their professorship as well as provide funding for their project. This is a huge benefit to private companies. It offers substantially lower costs which maximize their profits. From a business standpoint, it is a dynamic that is definitely capable to being abused. Schools, who could have already received government grants for certain equipment could then be used as facilities for private organizations. Thus resulting in the startup costs being accepted by the government. Does this lead to an increase in productivity or a loss?

To secure these funds, they also talked about patents. Patents are important in securing investment: it give legitimacy to your product and secures that it won’t be copied. But patents were put in place so one person wouldn’t be able to profit off your idea. While this protects intellectual property, the securing of this intellectual property would not be a problem if there was more public funding. Without the idea or goal of making money within the scientific field, it would mean more universally shared ideas, without the influence of money.

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Money is Power

“As a condition of the investment, Perkins joined Swanson and Boyer on the board of directors and was elected chairman. Little did Perkins know at the outset  how heavily instrumental he would continue to be in the company’s constant fund raising. “What was so different about Genentech,’ he later observed, ‘ was the astonishing amout of capital required to do all this. I know, on day one one, if anyone had wispered into my ear that, ‘For the next 20 years, you will be involved in raising litereally billions of dollars for this thing,’ I might not have done it ‘(47)”(Hughes, pg. 42)

 

Funding is an essential part of big business. Similarly in politics, to continue you need massive amounts of funding. I believe that this was partially important in medical programs being federally funded. This brings into question federal funding and how much they are allocating towards these medical programs. It is obvious that the government does not have unlimited amounts of money but does the industrial interest in biotech mean that the government isn’t doing enough. Or should their be laws put in place to protect the world from the largest industry in the world? If there are companies who are making greater technological advancement than the government, is that a problem for society? It would seem that governments need to do something as far as structural safety measures to entice more scientists towards the publicly funded sector. Whether this means re-evaluating the application process for grants and the bureaucratic requirements to receiving those grants.

To protect the medical research field, I think that this amount of economic influence today is unacceptable. It taints the waters of research but more than that tips the balance of power and ethics. A clear disadvantage of private funding is less control and input in the decision making process that the scientist has. With government oversight the goals were kept clear, profits kept low, and business was a side thought, all while maintaining a standard of ethics. But as discussed, this leads to outside influences effecting a field that is crucial to the health of the human race.

Money is Power

Bacteriophages vs Anti-biotics

We briefly talked about phage therapy in class, but I still didn’t quite understand how it actually related to Cohen’s work with plasmid DNA (Hughes, pg 17-19). My research lead me to an article that explains both the nature and potential applications of bacteriophages. I learned that bacteriophages are viruses that target bacteria for the purposes of viral reproduction, which in the process kills the host cell. Whereas Bacteria can, and many have, become increasingly resistant to anti-biotics, phages can actively evolve alongside their rapidly adaptive targets. From what I understand, the phages can more easily compete with bacteria than manmade anti-biotics and in the long run may prove more useful in medicinal practices; however, phages are limited in use to target bacteria with known susceptabilites to the specific therapeutic virus (Clokie.) I think it’s cool to see how DNA replication in cells can also be used to bolster our immunity against harmful bacteria.

http://www.news-medical.net/news/20151202/Bacteriophage-therapy-an-alternative-to-antibiotics-An-interview-Professor-Clokie.aspx

Bacteriophages vs Anti-biotics

Breaking Tradition

” Yet despite this utitiarian strand in American Sscience, biomedical structure  into the late 1970s was notably inhospitable to professors forming consuming relationships with business, let alone taking the almost unheard of step of founding a company without giving up a professorship. Academic cultural tradition, the precarious political context of recombinant DNS research, and the fact that Cohen and Boyer had no desire to leave academia argues against either scientist giving serous consideration to forming a company”( Hughes, pg. 24).


I find it interesting that there were these notions about the science community and the mood towards relationships between business and academic research. It seems that these attitudes towards partnering business with universities stemmed from a notion that biomedical research was deemed more of a publicly funded affair, which was in turn ethically sound. Or at least the publicly funded science that was going on had a direct goal at aiding the public, whereas private funding could lead to an impurity in the research. The academic community needed to protect its sanctity. With one goal, the scientists could pursue their research without any outside factors that would affect them. Obviously economics has a an affect on science today, and I worry that it has lost it’s sense of purpose. With two different factors manipulating science we find ourselves having to question science.

The sciences are the basis for the intellectual world. The mere mention of the word brings a sense of legitimacy. It is shrouded in the idea that science is solid: the basis of pure research for the sake of helping others and advancing the scientific world. Science used to be so pure in it’s desire, but has now been lost in the world of industry.  In this day and age when money is integrated into science at such a base level, I find a lack of legitimacy on topics. There are still scientists who deny and debate climate change, there are still people making way to much money off disease, and the fact that business has a negative effects on medical research is indisputable. I can’t help but read this passage and wonder if it was here that medical research lost it’s path.

Breaking Tradition

Synthetic DNA to Synthetic Life

“Furthermore, the 1976 guidelines concerned natural and complimentary DNA and contained no explicit reference to chemically synthesized DNA. The City of Hope chemists could therefore perform the gene synthesis work under ordinary lab conditions.” (Hughes, pg 92)

I really am fascinated by the seemingly radical difference that seems to exist between using natural DNA and synthetic DNA. Although we’ve discussed Genentech’s use of synthetic DNA and it’s moral advantage over natural DNA in class, we haven’t really ventured into the realm of the adjacent possible for the technology. If biotech scientists are able to synthesize entire sequences of DNA for practical use, why shouldn’t they be able to eventually create synthetic life? I found an article that details a biotech company’s success in adding two entirely new pair of nucleotide bases to the genetic code.  Basically what their work has accomplished would allow for an incredible new amount of biodiversity for life on earth, assuming they can create a fully synthesized organism. Essentially, we could see ourselves playing the roles of gods. Again this sort of subject dwells within the gray “should we or should we not” territory, but I find the idea that we one day may be able to create life with a technology more unique than cloning one worth pursuing.

http://news.discovery.com/tech/biotechnology/life-2-0-synthetic-dna-added-to-genetic-code-150825.htm

Synthetic DNA to Synthetic Life

Genentech: The Prime example of Innovation

“Rigid business organization and sharply delineated functions had no place at Genentech, a company in which flexibility, improvisation, and quick action were essential”(128).

Genentech’s business model and inter-company interaction are consist with innovation and a perfect level of casualness that makes the company so successful. Genentech was obviously not going to be a company forged on the conventional seriousness of the corporate world. Rather, Genentech embodies the facilitation of ideas that Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From, would love. The fact of the matter is this: in the realm of science, innovation, and product-based development, it is very important for employees of whatever company to be comfortable, casual, and unconventional. This, in turn, will create an atmosphere that can spread innovation.

Current CEO Ian Clark embodies this mantra because he knows the importance of innovation facilitation in relation to the biotechnology industry. “The truth is that the best ideas don’t always come from the top. I want every person at Genentech to feel comfortable both contributing ideas and challenging them. If dressing up in a pink ruffled tuxedo or like Han Solo once in awhile helps keep that culture alive, I’m up for it.” Ian Clark could not have said it any better: it is equally important that all members of a company are able to voice their opinions and ideas, so that this company can be running at the highest level of efficiency and potential.

Genentech: The Prime example of Innovation

Animal Insulin

Chapter four of “Genentech” discusses the exploration of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is made by beta cells in our pancreas. These beta cells manufacture and release insulin into our bodies and control blood so that it may circulate and allow glucose to enter and fuel the cell. Insulin controls other aspects of our metabolism such as converting fat to glucose and glucose into fat. Interesting enough, animal insulin was the first type of insulin administered to humans to control diabetes. However today animal insulin has been replaced by human insulin. Animal insulin is taken from the pancreas of animals, usually pigs and cows. The sequence of amino acids is slightly different than insulin from a different species. Animal insulin is typically made from highly purified pancreas extracts and is marketed as “animal” insulin.

diabetescure

This picture was taken from Google.

Works Cited: http://www.iddt.org/about/gm-vs-animal-insulin

 

Animal Insulin

Similarity between Genentech and Google

Chapter 5 describes “an emerging culture” in the Genentech company. Genentech was developing a culture that was unmatched by any other technology company at the time. Hughes wrote that Silicon Valley firms were equally motivated by innovation, research, and protecting intellectual property. However, these companies lacked strong ties with the academic world that biotechnology is built upon. The culture of Genentech’s company combined the financially driven aspect of product development that tech companies thrive on, with the academic collaboration that universities promote.

“Genentech’s culture was in short a hybrid of academic values brought in line with commercial objectives and practices. It was, to turn a phrase, “a recombinant culture” in way that the biotechnology industry of today continues to manifest in one way or another” -Hughes, 132

The culture was not lost on its visitors. As Hughes states, visitors to the company immediately noticed the energy and electricity of the company’s scientists. The company was noticeably informal and was lacking in respect to authority or hierarchy.

“Genentech’s culture of extremes included a strand that observers today would label socially unacceptable. But it was not Genentech’s blemishes that financiers noticed. They saw a company with an impressive line of scientific accomplishments and major corporate alliances.” – Hughes, 135

The environment of Genentech reminded me about Google’s environment from reading Johnson’ Where Good Ideas Come From. Google is notorious for having a laid back, informal work environment, where employees are encouraged to collaborate. Both Genentech and Google provide their employees with work environments that may not fit the norm, but allow their employees to be as innovative as possible. Both companies are able to produce highly marketable, successful products, while still providing their employees with the interactive environment they so desire.

Similarity between Genentech and Google

Scientific Incentives

 “Political, social, and economic factors and strategic scientific, financial, and business decisions” – Hughes 165

What incentives are there for scientists? Well, that question isn’t too hard to answer. But what is their motivating factor when conducting their work?

Its obvious that scientists usually pursue a field that sparks interest to them. But how can we be sure that money, fame, and recognition aren’t just as significant, if not more significant? The answer is that we don’t, we just have to assume they’re doing it for all the right reasons.

But put yourself in the shoes of a scientist. Clearly you’ve devoted your life to discovery and scientific ingenuity. But, was your motivation science itself, or was it the perks and incentives that came with it? Its a difficult topic to think about, but when digging deeper the options become more apparent.

The fame, recognition, and money that come along with large groundbreaking discoveries in a certain field can skew the minds of scientists. But those truly committed to their work will do it for the right reasons. So given this, what do you think the motivation was at Genetech? I know my answer, but everyone is entitles to their own opinion.

Scientific Incentives

The A chain and B chain of Insulin

A major component of this chapter was the structure of insulin, and if the Genentech team would be able to synthetically synthesize each aspect of its structure. The different chains are the protein chains encoded by the DNA, the specific gene. The process was complicated by contamination and difficulties with removing the isolated chains from the different bacterial plasmids. The amino acid sequence of each chain is unique, with the A chain having 21 amino acids and the B chain having 30 amino acids. Without a protein chemist, the Genentech team struggled in this part of the project, but were able to succeed in the end. Protein structure is very important when understanding the genetic code that produces it, such as the presence of factors like disulfide bonds, which are not fully detailed in the DNA, but affect the stability of the protein.

The A chain and B chain of Insulin

Media Guidelines for Scientists

In Chapter 6 of Genentech, the media’s influence on new scientific discoveries is discussed. Hughes calls the media “uncritical” of the scientific discoveries and I believe that the media is uncritical because they don’t truly understand the science they’re reporting on (136). After reading this, I wondered what scientists could do, for their part, to help the public and the media reporting to the public better understand their work. According to Social Research Science Center, scientists should speak to journalists, but there is a list of guidelines they should follow. For example, the scientists should read the papers or watch tv to get an idea of how their field is often portrayed in the media. Does the media question the ethics of their field or do they raise any additional questions to be answered? This website also suggests hiring a press officer to bridge the gap between the science world and the media world. This officer can help state the risks and benefits more meaningfully to the public and can help shape the main ideas into a more understandable thesis. Lastly, scientists should take public interest to heart. They should try to explain the exciting feature of their research rather than the tedious, academic details.

Media Guidelines for Scientists

Public or Private

The end of the book talked about the decision Genentech made to go public, even though at that point they had no products and no profit.  It was a gamble that Swanson was willing to take, but was it the right decision?  Many people working with Swanson thought they should wait to go public, because they could make more money and gain more investors once they had a product out.  But, Swanson wanted more funding at the time and wasn’t willing to wait.  At first, I thought he should have waited just as many people had advised him to.  But after reviewing the Genentech stocks, it is revealed that Genentech made upwards of a billion dollars off going public, compared to only 3 million dollars in expenses. Swanson got the funding he needed to push his company forward, even if he didn’t have products or profits to support his claims.  People were interested in the new concept of biotechnology and wanted a piece of the profits.

Link

The War Against Viruses

“By the late 1970’s, anyone following commercial biotechnology was entranced by the new about the interferon, a protein discovered in 1957 and thought to prevent virus infection”-Hughes (pg 141)

After reading the chapter I became very interested in the topic of interferons. However, chapter 6 didn’t really touch on the topic as I would have liked. After completing some research I found out was the interferons are a groups of proteins containing beta and alpha domains that help with immune responses to other cells. They are represent a family of cytokines. Which means these protein molecules act as ligands for the receptors on neighboring cells to boost their immune response to the viral infection. This happens when a virus inserts itself into the cell of an organism. The virus hijacks the cell’s machinery for replication, transcription and translation to create more viral cells. During this time the cell actually makes interferons of its own, naturally, to signal neighboring cells that an infection has occurred and to boost up an immune response. The neighboring cells then respond by activating immune cells (i.e. macrophages) to destroy the unhealthy cells, increasing the amount of antigens secreted. These two contributions alone help the cell coordinate an immune response to a foreign pathogen. Antibodies are able to coat the foreign agents and the activated macrophages will be able to recognize the infected cells and destroy them. This seems very cool on how our own body has to do this whenever we come into contact with a viral agent. Our cell are able to orchestrate a uniform response in order for the organisms survival.

 

To learn more about interferons click on the underlined words to gain access to journal articles.

Here are some YouTube videos I found on interferons:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cgGgh9XEO8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qFu6Fv4cJk

The War Against Viruses

Basics on Interferons

Chapter 6 of Genentech sparked my curiosity about Interferons. I wanted to know why they are so important, what the do, and why Genentech wanted to work with them so badly. I did some research about Interferons in an encyclopedia, and found out a lot of useful information. Below is some of that information.

What are interferons:

Interferons are “a group of proteins known primarily for their role in inhibiting viral infections and in stimulating the entire immune system to fight disease.”

What are their medical uses:

Interferons “can inhibit cell division, which is one reason why they hold promise for stopping cancer growth. Recent studies have also found that one interferon may play an important role in the early biological processes of pregnancy.”

Also, “several interferon proteins have been approved as therapies for diseases like chronic hepatitis , genital warts, multiple sclerosis, and several cancers.”

Directly relating to Genentech:

The encyclopedia stated, ” biotechnological advances, making genetic engineering easier and faster, are making protein drugs like interferons more available for study and use. Using recombinant DNA technology, or gene splicing, genes that code for interferons are identified, cloned, and used for experimental studies and in making therapeutic quantities of protein. These modern DNA manipulation techniques have made possible the use of cell-signaling molecules like interferons as medicines.

interferon

This photo was taken from The Free Dictionary by Farlex

Basics on Interferons

Ethics Concerning CRISPR Technology

CRISPR-cas 9 technology allows biologist to edit genes. Cas-9 is an enzyme that works as biological scissors that can cut DNA. A small RNA molecule is required to direct the enzyme to a specific sequence of interest. Once the DNA is cut out, the natural machinery of the bodies DNA repair mechanism takes over and will seal up the cut out DNA ends. This technology can be used to alter protein/gene expression, which could be very helpful when researching ways for curing diseases. This brings up an ethical question of who should be able to alter genes? Should parents be able to alter genes of their unborn child to prevent them from being deaf, having a certain eye color, certain disease etc? If this technology was offered to the public, what would be the price?

Personally, it does not seem ethical to spend this technology editing certain genes that could make a parents ideal child. You shouldn’t be able to choose whether or not you want your child to have certain features. It almost seems as if it would be playing to role of God. It seems as if this technology was offered to the public, it would have to come with many regulations. I think that using this gene editing tool to prevent disease would be awesome though. If science was able to block a certain viral protein from being formed but cutting out the DNA that codes for it, it could prevent multiple fatal diseases. It just becomes the next question of what is the limitations of this technology? How would companies prevent people from going to far with this technology? Below is a picture of the CRISPR-cas-9 system.

crispr-cas9-CO013130

Ethics Concerning CRISPR Technology

Genentech Today

“As the founders of the biotechnology industry, our goal is to use the power of genetic engineering and advanced technologies to make medicines that address unmet medical needs, and help millions of people worldwide” – Genentech

After finishing Hughes book, I was very interested at looking at Genentech’s website to see what they are doing today and all that they have accomplished. This quote which was on their “our leadership” page really summed up their mission as a company and answered a lot of questions that I was asking myself throughout the book. I often wondered whether Genentech was too concerned with the money they were going to make when they initially started their company. Especially Swanson, the business end of the partnership, who really pushed the scientists to discover their products very quickly in order to profit as a company. I questioned whether over time they became too concerned with the competitive scientific world, and lost sight of benefiting humanity, but this quote disproves my feelings. Genentech’s website is set up similarly to a blog page. They have links to all their research and ongoing projects, which I thought really represented their mission as a company. It is a very easy site to navigate and it truly shows that Genentech is a company for the people. Another item that I really enjoyed on their website was the “Living 10 years in the Future” page. Here they showed a fantastic video of what it is like to be a Genentech scientist.

Genentech Today

Science Cities

“”After considering various locations, Swanson and Perkins met with the mayor of South San Francisco, who encouraged them to locate in “The Industrial City,” as block letters proclaimed on a freeway hillside”” (Hughes 77-78).

Science is has always been about the spreading of ideas. From the dawn of science it has been paramount that the ideas and results of science be shared throughout the world. Therefore it is also important for cities to provide an environment in which ideas can flow smoothly. In the United States that city is San Francisco and Silicon Valley. There is no place on earth that offers the accessibility of capital and the most important companies on earth concentrated in one area. Venture capitalists allow for biotech companies like in the book to prosper. It also allows for ideas and medication to be brought to the free market. Overall the importance of having a city like San Francisco is vital for the progress of science as the ability of capital and the easy ability to spread ideas faster than ever before.

Science Cities

Looking Back to Johnson

“Boyer and Swanson, holding 925,000 shares apiece, became instant multimillionaires, each reaping a one-day profit of nearly $70 million… The founders’ initial $500 investments in Genentech had vaulted the sons of a railroad man and an airplane mechanic to an inconceivable peak of fame and fortune.” -Hughes, pg 158

This quote reminded me of one of the subjects discussed in Where Good Ideas Come From, the concept of being able to take a single idea (in this case, Swanson’s idea to use recombinant DNA to start a biotech company) and make an enormous profit off of it. It’s a very American idea–intelligence combined with hard work can earn you a great deal of money. The example Johnson used was that of the invention of air conditioning. But looking back in Johnson’s book, I realized there’s a difference between the gold mine that Willis Carrier (inventor of air conditioning) found, and that of Genentech.
Looking back at Johnson’s book, I was reminded of his idea of the four quadrants, combinations of market and non-market innovations, and those created by individuals and those created by networks. The creation of air conditioning was an individual effort.
But the creation of Genentech was far from individual. Even at the company’s very beginning it was a network of business and science; both were needed in order to turn Genentech into a success. Johnson would certainly put Genentech’s manufacturing of insulin and all their other biological products in the second quadrant–market, networked innovations. It was Swanson’s intention from the start to make a profit off of what Boyer and the other scientists could accomplish, so Genentech’s achievements were market innovations. And given the numerous contributions from all kinds of scientific and business-oriented fields, it’s impossible to deny that Genentech’s success was the result of a vast network.

Looking Back to Johnson

HGH Good For Sports?

While I was reading chapter 5 about Human Growth Hormone, I could not help but think  about the drug’s modern day reputation in sports.  It seems all too often stories about legendary sports players come out saying they used this type of performance enhancing drug at one point in their career.  The way major sports leagues ban this substance gives it a mostly negative connotation, but can this substance help athletes in more honorable ways than just cheating?  This ABC News article breaks down the possibilities of HGH in a deeper context.  One of the topics deals with how the drug can be used to help better repair hurt player’s knees.  When players tear their ACL, they can lose up to 20% of their power and agility from muscle shrinkage caused by a leakage of synovial fluid.  The Michigan doctor’s hypothesis is that HGH will activate a protein called IGF-1, which stands for insulin like growth factor, that will foster muscle growth and deter another protein that stops growth.  They are currently testing trials with men the ages 18-35 and should complete this process by 2017.  The hope is that the men’s knees will be stronger years after the surgery and that they will be closer to the effectiveness they were at before the injury.  If this ends up panning out, major sports leagues should consider the rules against HGH as its use this way could significantly help the careers of injured athletes.

HGH Good For Sports?

Investing and Biotech

“‘…I decided I would buy a used VW Rabbit. So, [before the IPO] I sold, i think, eight hundred shares for eight thousand dollars…After we went public, the stock price went up and up and up. At some point, those eight hundred shares were worth a million dollars. And I bought a used Rabbit for that, a million dollar Rabbit. Oh god!'”-Axel Ullrich, page 159

In the tumultuous world of Wall Street, anything could happen. Sometimes, the most unlikely companies rise to the top, multiplying in size and net worth over a very short period of time. In Chapter 6 of Genentech, we see Genentech go through such a transformation. Most of us remember this kind of growth happening in companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google as we were growing up. Wall Street continues to be a risky environment today, where budding companies “make it big or die trying”. However, Genentech’s success in this chapter seems unique, in that there was great interest in it before it had a product on the market. The company had no Macintosh or iPhone to sell, no social network making millions off ad revenue and growing exponentially every month. Genentech had nothing to sell, yet it had millions of investors interested in its future because of the innovative biotech the company was researching and the amazing applications that things like man-made insulin and HGH could have.

I think that Genentech’s success as an IPO is a sort of Cinderella story which shows the advantages of speculation and investment in a time when many of us are highly critical of Wall Street and what it does. While many will write off Wall Street investors as sharks looking for a quick buck to take from someone else, they actually have some amazing effects on our economy. They help keep money flowing into smaller businesses and help them grow into massive companies that hopefully do something good for our society. The amazing stimulative power of Wall Street is a major part of the success of almost every tech company. While the success of these companies (and also Genentech) is never guaranteed, I believe that those who invest in their risky excursions ultimately help the world become a better place.

“Genentech and the origins of biotech were far more than the successful industrial application of a novel technology. A concentration of political, social, and economic factors and strategic, scientific, financial, and business decisions molded, shaped, stymied, and encouraged Genentech’s rise to the temporary pinnacle of its stock market debut.”- Hughes, page 164

Investing and Biotech

From Foe to Friend

“the building, christened Genentech hall, stands today at the center of campus, a symbolic reconciliation so both sides pointedly portrayed-of long term protagonists of biopharmaceutical research”(Hughes,153).

Competition is one of the most important thing in life, it what drives us to make the best of our abilities, and to not fall behind, In the book, Genentech and UCSF are competing labs trying to beat each other to to biotech punch. Genentech had hired former UCSF scientists who “borrowed” old work and brought it with them to Genentech and helped create human insulin. This lead to USCF suing Genentech. This is interesting because it seems to be only done because Genentech succeeded at insulin, where if not they would have maybe been left alone. The issue is resolved and Genentech gives money to build a new research building at UCSF, and is interestingly named after them. This seems like the best friend you make after being in a fight, sometimes competition can bring who entities closer together.

 

From Foe to Friend

Genetech: Money or Science?

After reading the book, the audience can question whether or not scientists are motivated by helping the people, or money. Even when visiting the Genetech website, they stress their dedication to the patients and the good of science. However, like any company the scientists must work in oder to please investors. If a product is not made in a timely manner successfully, the company will fall behind competitors. The website even lists reasons why people should invest in their company, all surrounding money obviously. People can become concerned projects are rushed, or not done to the best of the scientists ability in order to make certain deadlines or requirements. Regardless, Genetech is a multi-billion dollar company and is not lacking in investments.

We believe it’s urgent to deliver medical solutions right now – even as we develop innovations for the future. We are passionate about transforming patients’ lives. We are courageous in both decision and action. And we believe that good business means a better world.-www.gene.com

Genetech: Money or Science?

Biotechnology Day

I was curious as we finished the book about Genentech, what they were doing in modern times. After some quick googling I learned that this year they celebrated thier 40th anniversary. In celebration the state of California created a biotechnology day on April 7th because in 1976 that is when “Biochemists Herb Boyer of the University of California, San Francisco, and Stanford University’s Stanley Cohen had developed the technology to clone genetically engineered DNA molecules in foreign cells” thus founding Genentech. I thought it is really cool that California is honoring Genentech’s accomplishments because they had such an impact on the field. I think this will help increase interest in biotech as well now that it has its own day.

http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/blog/biotech/2016/04/genentech-40th-anniversary-biotech-day-herb-boyer.html

Biotechnology Day

Employement agreements

Kleid and Goeddel then signed employment agreements, giving Genentech title to all inventions and protecting the company from unauthorized disclosure proprietary information, a routine practice in industrial research labs. – Hughes page 85

Kleid and Goeddell both gave Genentech their rights for any inventions that they make; this however, does not sound like such a good idea. I am not a scientist, but if I put my time and effort in discovering something then I would love to have my name on it, or take it with me if I resign. This would be a huge draw back for them as scientist but a huge gain for Genentech because they get new inventions no matter if they leave or stay, they will get the credit. The fact of letting a company take credit for your work is not necessarily the best move for a career, unless you become a name independently. They should have tried to get those rights.

Employement agreements

Genetically Modified Insulin vs. Animal Insulin

Genentech informs a lot about the creation of insulin and briefly mentions the company’s experiences with both human insulin and animal insulin. Up until the 1980s, animal insulin was extracted from the pancreas’ of cows and pigs. As seen in the book, animal insulin eventually lost its usefulness. One major fear of doctors and those who required animal insulin was the possibility of getting bovine spongiform encephalopathy or “mad cow disease.” I was curious to know other reasons why human or genetically modified insulin is better than animal insulin. Live Strong informs that human insulin and animal insulin are not the same. One of the main advantages genetically modified insulin has over animal insulin is that it requires fewer resources to make and can be made quicker. GMO insulin can multiply rapidly, ultimately resulting in large quantities of the product, whereas animal insulin requires development of the animal pancreas, which can take years. Prior to the use of human and genetically modified insulin, researchers were skeptical as to whether or not animal insulin was as consistent. The insulin made by genetic engineering proved to be identical to human insulin produced by the pancreas, giving it yet another advantage over animal insulin. As for function, scientists discovered that animal insulin was ineffective in some patients. After a certain amount of treatment time, some diabetics developed antibodies against animal insulin. In addition, researchers found that animal insulin was transmitting diseases to humans. This is not a worry for GMO insulin users, as the production of the product involves no cross-contamination. On the other hand, there are a few disadvantages to the use of GMO insulin. For example, some patients have experienced severe allergic reactions, a few even resulting in death or severe sickness. Furthermore, GMO insulin is limited, making it difficult or expensive to obtain. Overall, this is interesting to consider as we continue to read Genentech.

Genetically Modified Insulin vs. Animal Insulin

How the Culture Affects the Workers

At the end of Chapter five, Hughes mentions some very interesting points about the culture of the Genentech company. In particular, this quote from a female scientist that worked at the company sparked interest with me:

“‘The company seemed to operate like a boys’ locker room, and the place reeked of testosterone. No prank was too outrageous, no poker bet too high, and no woman was part of the inner circle.'” -Hughes, 151

I wonder how in particular this environment was both promoted by and affected the workers in the company. First, it is no secret that there is a considerable lack of women in the STEM fields (the attached statistics are taken from twenty-first century surveys, so I would imagine that in the 1980s the numbers were much lower). Therefore I’m sure there was a natural promotion by these employees.

The affects of it, however, are unclear. Evidently it may have been detrimental for women to get ahead and succeed in the biotechnology field if it is mainly male driven, especially if no women were invited into the “inner circle”.

This may point to the reason women are not encouraged to succeed in STEM fields, despite their obvious capabilities.

 

How the Culture Affects the Workers

Competition and Insulin Production

Chapter 4 of Genentech posed some interesting points as they discussed the discovery and production of human insulin. While most of the chapter did focus on the technical and science aspects of actually synthesizing human insulin, there was a lot of discussion between the development of insulin through the influence of competition. It was stated that both UCSF and Harvard were competing to produce insulin first and when they thought they did, it was really only found to be a precursor to insulin, rather, an inactive form. After this was discovered, Genentech was able to successfully synthesize human insulin. It is interesting to look at the external influences that cause discoveries to be made. Rather than just playing around  with compounds or molecules, competition, essentially, drove the creation of insulin. This relates to things that people see in their everyday lives. Under pressure and competing with others allows one to create the best output. In a video, Goeddel, discusses the fierce competition that helped Genentech prosper in the synthesis of human insulin. It is interesting to see the perspectives of scientists and researchers involved as they experienced the pressure and competition first hand. Thus, this chapter gave us readers an interesting look into what it takes for something to be successful – while intellectual faculty and knowledge plays a major role, sometimes the external environment and competition between people produces the best results.

Competition and Insulin Production

Who Owns What?

“The incident or “midnight raid”, as Ullrich referred to it, occurred on New Year’s Eve 1978 as he made final preparations to go to Genentech. Seeburg, whom goodman had banned from the premises after a furious dispute in November over his ties to Genentech, asked to accompany Ullrich to remove some biological samples and take them to the company across the bay…Around Midnight, the tow entered the deserted lab and removed various research specimens, including some of Baxter’s human pituitary material and a complementary DNA clone of human growth hormone” (114-115).

This literal robbery of the UCSF lab, at Midnight on New Years Eve, seems to be a very strange act by two respected research scientists. The two men claimed their acts were legal because first, they had completed the research so why shouldn’t they take it with them to the new lab, and secondly they had only taken pieces of each the specimens and pituitary material. At this time, in 1978, most scientists were not working under Assignment-of-Invention agreements. This article explains what Assignment-of-Invention agreements legally mean. Because neither of the two men were legally bound to resign their research materials if they left the University, technically they were not committing a crime when they entered the lab on New Years.

Who Owns What?

How Are Scientific Studies Chosen to Receive Grants?

“To maintain our edge . . . we’ve got to protect our rigorous peer review system and ensure that we only fund proposals that promise the biggest bang for taxpayer dollars . . . that’s what’s going to maintain our standards of scientific excellence for years to come.”- President Barack Obama 

President Obama restated an idea that has kept the United States at the forefront of scientific research and discovery for decades; we must have the most rigorous peer review in the world in order to stay ahead of the world. Grant’s are given by the United States Government by going through a peer review process that grades your work, and considers its impact. There are several criteria that have to be considered in the peer review process for a lab or study, including, but not limited to: overall impact, significance, investigators, innovation, and approach.

A study’s overall impact is very important to peer reviewers because they want to know that a discovery will have a lasting impact on the research field and the world. The significance of a study is similar to overall impact, except that it focuses on overcoming a barrier or problem in the research field. Investigators, are the actual scientists who will be running the study, the peer reviewers want to know that they are accomplished members of the research field, and how the organizational structure and hierarchy of the study is laid out. Peer reviewers also need to know how innovative the study will be, will it shift the current understanding of the field? Finally, the approach of the study’s team is also important, how will it be designed, what are variables that are being controlled, do they have a alternative strategies?

 

Source: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/peer_review_process.htm#Second

How Are Scientific Studies Chosen to Receive Grants?

Human Genetic Research and Ethics

On page 93, Hughes mentions that UCSF and Harvard faced some difficulties because their research used human genetic material. I wanted to know more about using human genetic material in research. I found an article that talked about human genetic research and all that it entails.

http://www.pre.ethics.gc.ca/eng/policy-politique/initiatives/tcps2-eptc2/chapter13-chapitre13/

This article addresses how genetic research can violate some ethics. This is due to all the information that researches can get from a person’s genetic material. This includes ancestry and cultural background. The question is asked if this is too much to know? Does this violate a person’s privacy? The article brings up a lot of good points about this and really makes you one think about how much should be kept private.

The article also talks about the rights that the individual has when it comes to the researchers sharing the findings of the experiment and who can know the information. I was also surprised to read about genetic material banks where genetic material is collected and stored for future analysis.

This article really opened my eyes to how challenging the world of human genetic research is and how many different factors need to be considered when doing this type of research.

Human Genetic Research and Ethics

Recombinant DNA

Recombinant DNA is a very significant field within genetics as it allows for numerous opportunities into molecular research. Recombinant DNA is a type of nucleic acid that is created by combining different segments of DNA together synthetically. At the time of Swanson’s and Boyer’s research, this was an important event because with the technology, different genes could be cloned extremely easily, and in very high quantities. The beginnings of Genetech show that recombinant DNA would sky rocket in the near future, as synthetically engineering human genes and replicating them with ease would eventually lead to the mass production of human insulin, an example of recombinant DNA. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) , as mentioned in the Genetech, had an active presence in the initial research into recombinant DNA, still is very involved, as this article details the government regulations on DNA research as a whole.

Recombinant DNA

Computer Gamers Designing and Folding RNA Molecules

“Modern biotechnology originates in 1973 with the invention of recombinant DNA technology, a now universal form of genetic engineering. It entails recombining (joining) pieces of DNA in a test tube, cloning (creating identical copies of DNA) in a bacterium or other organism, and expressing the DNA code as a protein or RNA molecule.”- Hughes (pg.1)

The discovery and use of recombinant has paved the way into finding new ways to treat patients with protein (nucleotide) based medications such as RNA. This form of treatment does not grow old with time and still is prevalent in our society today. In my health communication class we discussed that there have been many new innovations in the health and pharmaceutical industry. New technologies in wearable technologies, tools for diagnosis, and portable gaming are becoming more apparent.

An online computer game, called EteRNA, has the user puzzled in making single strands of RNA molecule fold and in certain shapes. My first impression of the game was how fun and easily addicting this game can become. However, the importance of this game is critical for the development of new drugs. The RNA in our cells are involved in many important biological functions. Including whether or not certain genes, within our DNA, gets expressed. Scientists want to use  the RNA for customized treatments for viral infections (i.e. the Zika virus) or inherited disorders (i.e. cystic fibrosis) by targeting genes and other parts of our cells. But first, the scientists have to figure out how does RNA fold when it interacts with those structures. So some researchers from Stanford and Carnegie Mellon University, who were inspired by the success of Foldit (another mHealth game), developed EterRNA. What the community of gamers noticed from the game were traits that made some RNA structures harder to design. In the “Principles for Predicting RNA Secondary Structure Design Difficulty” published in the Journal of Molecular Biology explained that gamers had difficulty in designing folded RNA molecules that are symmetrical (containing similar RNA bases) were also difficult to synthesize in the laboratory. What these gamers learned can help scientists to save time and money when designing RNA structures in the lab. EteRNA is a gaming technology has led to more positive health outcome in the medical research field that can help benefit society.

Multimedia Outlets:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/science/11rna.html?_r=0

http://www.nature.com/nsmb/journal/v18/n10/full/nsmb.2119.html

 

 

Computer Gamers Designing and Folding RNA Molecules

Antibiotic Resistance

“He knew the necessary necessary molecular and biochemical techniques, and the growing problem of antibiotic resistance was an appropriate topic for a physician” (pg.7)

The beginning of Chapter one introduces Cohen and his journey with medicine. It talks about how he is smart and could help with the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. After reading what I quoted above, I began to question what antibiotic resistance was. After some research I found out that antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria to resist the effects of an antibiotic. When antibiotic resistance occurs the effectiveness of the drug is reduced and the bacteria survives causing more harm. Bacteria survives and ends up multiplying.  Serious illnesses that can be treated with antibiotics could now not be treated  since antibiotics are slowly becoming resistant.Today more than ever, antibiotics are prescribed to people for colds, acne, the flu and more. The overuse and misuse of antibiotics increases the chance of a resistance to antibiotics. It is important to know the facts when you are sick with before a doctor prescribes an antibiotic. If something can be treated on its own with proper sleep, water, etc then that is a better option. Science is always evolving and scientists are looking for ways to reverse the cycle of antibiotic resistance.

maxresdefault

Picture from Google

Work cited:http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/community/about/antibiotic-resistance-faqs.html

Here is an interesting video I found about antibiotic resistance:

Video

Antibiotic Resistance

Recombinant DNA: Realword Applications, Benefits, and Concerns

Like most technological break throughs, recombinant DNA at first wasn’t completely welcomed to the science world and many people were skeptical about it’s role and benefits in real world. Although now we know about its purpose and significance of it, there are still some concerns about it. First, lets start with the “pros” of recombinant DNA. Used in plants, plant breeders and farmers use it to create stronger, more durable, plants that could survive better and give humans better results in health. Furthermore, scientists have been able to construct plant DNA to withstand harmful bug invaders and pests that usually disrupt plant growth. They also can be altered to provide humans with more amino acids, fatty acids, and essential vitamins. However, along with benefits come concerns. Lately, with the growing funding for coming from the private sector, which allows companies to expand their research and obtain patents on discovered technology, which can hamper the progress that other companies are working towards in the field of biotechnology. Even more concerning is the thought that tough plants with genes able to survive and fight off disease and viruses, could mutate and create other diseases and viruses that are able to withstand other drugs.

Recombinant DNA: Realword Applications, Benefits, and Concerns

The Motivation Behind Genetech

The idea for Genetech originally came from Bob Swanson, a capital venturist with a love for chemistry and science in general.  But, did the motivation behind starting the company come from his love of science and determination to make advancements in the field of biotechnology?  Or did he just see a market that could be exploited to make himself a ton of money?  Genetech was trying to replicate insulin genes and market it to people in need, such as those with diabetes.  That sounds like a noble thing to do, but did Swanson really care about the advancements his team was making in the field?  I doubt he would have continually looked for funding for his company if he did not see a huge payday at the end of the tunnel.  I believe scientists, such as Cohen, genuinely want to help people and want to develop cures or treatments for different diseases.  But venture capitalists, such as Swanson, are mainly along for the ride because they believe there will be a lot of money at the end of the road, and maybe even some fame to go with it.

The Motivation Behind Genetech

Funding Dilemmas

“Swanson’s experience as a venture capitalist had centered on young Silicone Vally companies, each with products that had been prototyped and were nearing or on the market. Genetech presented a very different situation.” – Hughes (49)

The unfortunate reality, is that in order to conduct experiments and discover new things, you need resources, and resources are funded by money. Thus, in order to conduct experiments and move forward with your endeavor, you have to have funding; money.

The way in which most scientists go is that they search for investors that would be willing to sponsor and fund the project. the scientist(s) will then show this investor what they are working on and their current progress. However, earning the funds from venture capitalists has become increasingly difficult as the years have gone on. The competition is higher and there are simply more people looking for investors. It helps promote a higher level of discovery, but many groups projects get out on fault until they find someway to pay for their projects.

An alternative is to apply for a government grant. The government grant is something that scientists don’t necessarily drool over, but its something to get the wheels off the ground. Since its a government grant, it isn’t as efficient or lenient as a venture capitalist but again, its money that these groups of scientists need to move forward.

But go into the mind of a scientist, how would you like to be funded? Most people would answer venture capitalist. But whats the significance? Well, the significance is that Genetech had no prototype or model.In todays society it would be impossible to receive funding this way, however the guys at Genetech managed to earn money for their incredible work without having a tangible model to show what they were trying to accomplish. Its remarkable really. But, the important thing is that were able to somewhat avoid this difficult process of putting their project on hold to receive funds. They were still at the first stage of discovery so they were able to just hit the ground running with money, and go from there. Very unique situation.

Funding Dilemmas

Recombinant DNA vs. RNA interference

Chapter 2 in Genentech talked heavily on the applications of Recombinant DNA. The main application discussed was an easier way to produce the hormone insulin for people suffering from diabetes. In molecular genetics, the course offered here at loyola, one of the experiments done within the semester is making our own recombinant DNA. We actually did Boyer’s experiment and tested whether or not it was successful by running the samples on a gel and on petri dishes. When we used the petri dishes we streaked the plates with our recombinant DNA and did a blue/white screening to test the colonies that contained our plasmid. The colonies that remained white were and indication of our recombinant DNA due to the inactivation of a-galactosidase. While reading Genentech reminded me of this experiment and also another involving RNA interference.

As rRNA is used to produce a certain protein as RNA interference is used to stop the production of a certain protein. The two types that we studied were microRNA (miRNA) and small interfering RNA (siRNA). They both have different properties as to what type of sequences they bind to. Basically, they are small sequences that are able to bind to other sequences to prevent the translation of their amino acids, aka protein. This is super cool! It makes me wonder if this technology could possibly be used in the future to fight disease. For example, cancer therapy. Hypothetically, if scientist were able to program a specific miRNA to target the protein production of a cancer cell, it may be able to stop the proliferation of the cell. Without vital protein production then the cell will die, possibly killing off the cancer. It seems like something that should be researched.

Recombinant DNA vs. RNA interference

“What Good Is That?”

“But the folks at home were stymied. ‘What are you doing?’ his father would ask. ‘Restriction endonuclease modification,’ he would glibly answer, using the technical term for his research area. He would then pause for his father’s inevitable retort. ‘Well, what good is it? What are you going to do with that?'”
-Hughes, 6

I found this particular section of the origin story of Boyer to be hilarious and relatable. It is first hilarious because clearly it is important scientific research that Boyer is performing, but his father simply wants to know how he plans on supporting himself. With older generations I think it is very common to be more concerned with the immediate job opportunities one can get so that one can support oneself. Younger generations, though, think on a much more global scale, where they wonder what they can do in the world or what difference they can make, hence Boyer’s response to his father: “I don’t know–cure the common cold” (Hughes, 6)

The argument of which is more important (accomplishing short-term and long-term goals) continues even after Boyer and his father had this discussion; many parents today have that same argument with their college age children. What is extraordinary about this is that while Boyer was studying his restriction endonuclease modification and ultimately striving for a long-term goal, he was able to create the business, the short-term goal of having a job and an income to support himself.

“What Good Is That?”

Basics on Somatostatin

In Chapter 3 of Genentech, Hughes discusses the company’s work with somatostatin. Immediately after reading, I was curious about somatostatin. I wanted to know what it was, what it was used for, and what would happen if our bodies didn’t produce it. I did some research, and found a pretty cool site called: http://www.yourhormones.info. This site breaks down each of the hormones that our body produces, and gives the basic information about what the hormone is, how and where in the body it’s made, and what happens if there is a surplus or deficiency of that hormone in the body. So, let’s get back to somatostatin! If you check out the site, you will find the following information:

What is it:

It is a hormone that regulates secretion of other hormones, regulates the activity of the gastrointestinal tract, and regulates the production of tumor cells.

Where is it produced in the body:

Somatostatin is produced in the pancreas, gastrointestinal tract, and in the hypothalamus. In the pancreas it controls the production of glucagon and insulin. In the gastrointestinal tract it controls production of gastrin and secretin. In the hypothalamus it controls the secretion of growth hormone from the pituitary gland.

Deficiency:

Although rare, there could be too much secretion of growth hormone.

Surplus:

There would be an extreme reduction in secretion of other endocrine hormones. This could lead to ailments like diabetes or gallstones.

somatostatin

This photo of Somatostatin above  was taken from Wikipedia.

 

Basics on Somatostatin

High Costs of Biotechnology

In Chapter 2 of Sally Smith Hughes’ Genetech, the third part of the Genetech trio is introduced. Arthur Swanson was a young venture capitalist who had a special interest in recombinant DNA. He decided that there was a financial future in this new biotechnology field, and it could possibly be lucrative. It happens that Swanson was right, but not only in the case of Genetech. Biotechnology as a field has become wildly successful, and in massive need of huge amounts of venture capital. This article summarizes the amounts of capital invested in the state of Maryland, during the last quarter of 2015. In second place was biotech. Maryland companies such as “Precision for Medicine INC” pulled upwards of $75 million in venture capital. This local company that focuses on ways to personalize healthcare, was the second largest consumer of capital in the last quarter of 2015, in the state of Maryland. This revolutionary sector has proven to be a high consumer of venture capital, like Swanson predicted. It has become even larger than he could have ever predicted, and even more influential.

High Costs of Biotechnology

Success at a young age

“We were young, and when you are successful, it helps enormously with your whole state of mind. It helps with your confidence; it helps with the publications you write; it helps with your future, with your career” – Hughes page 51

Being successful at a young age is something that we all definitely would like. In this book, these young scientists are making discoveries and working hard to achieve their goals. However, being young and successful also came with many fights. Since they were young and this was new stuff being tried, a lot of stress was added to their plates. So how much of this success was a blessing for them? Is it better to have a rough start and be secure about your decision making in the future? It does help in the confidence area, but it seems that the scientists in the group are being taken away from the point of their research.

Success at a young age

Science and Industry

“The heart of [Boyer’s] problem, as they saw it, was that as a full-time, tenured professor he was simultaneously and inappropriately cofounder, vice president, board member, advisor, and major stockholder of a private company–Boyer’s company… As his severest critics put it, he was ‘selling out to industry.'” -Hughes, pg 71

I thought it was interesting that so many people were adamantly against the idea of Boyer working with Genentech. The idea that he was “selling out to industry” makes me wonder if many researchers at the time wanted science and industry to remain separate; maybe they thought scientific research should be motivated by curiosity and a need to understand how things work rather than attempting to turn a discovery into a product.
If that is the case, then I would certainly disagree with those types of researchers. Commercializing the product of an experiment can bring in money for the laboratory or university, providing funds that would allow them to do even more research. I’m not sure I see the logic behind these criticisms of Herb Boyer–an ideological disagreement, that I can see. Maybe these critics aren’t fond of the idea of a scientist being so involved in business. But calling it in appropriate?
The only concern I might have had regarding Boyer’s work with Genentech is simply the question of whether or not he has enough time to devote to both, and if not, then which would be his first priority? Teaching or business?

Science and Industry

Academics in Industry

“Commercialization of biological discoveries was far from novel at the birth of Genentech: Big Pharma had been doing it for a long time. But for a member of the academic community to be so intimately involved, that was a sea change. No one had thought much about the rules for how this might be done. So there were repercussions, particularly among the faculty of UCSF- a hue and cry over potential conflicts of interest. It was a harrowing time for Herb Boyer”- (Hughes 72)

Firstly, even though Hughes here makes a distinction between using academic discoveries for profit and academics using academic resources for profit, I do not see a difference. If Big Pharma was using discoveries found in research labs for profit, that is essentially the same thing as using research labs to make profit. In the end, the work of the research labs is being used for money-making purposes.

Secondly, Boyer himself was not motivated by profit, saying he “thought I was doing something that was valuable to society” (Hughes 73). Just the fact that he went through depression after experiencing all the criticism from academia shows that his motives were sincere. He was still performing his duties as professor, so why was his using university labs a problem? I guess it is the equivalent to someone doing their own project at work, and not their company’s assignments, and so losing their company money, but I feel like the point of research universities is not to make money off research, but to contribute to the knowledge pool of that field. Furthermore, if the point of research universities is to better society, was’t Boyer doing that? Finally, I feel as though the fact that the criticism came mainly from other UCSF professors says a lot.

Academics in Industry

Why is there Antibiotic Resistance?

“Plasmid research seemed a perfect fit: he [Cohen] knew the necessary molecular and biochemical techniques, and the growing medical problem of antibiotic resistance was an appropriate topic for a physician” – Hughes, p7

This topic of antibiotic resistance really interested me because as a speech-language-hearing sciences major, we discuss the topic of overprescribed antibiotics and the possibility of antibiotic resistance specifically in regards to ear infections in children. Antibiotic resistance is natural phenomenon where the bacteria resists an antibiotic and has a greater chance of surviving because it grows stronger than the antibiotic itself. According to Claire McCarthy, M.D., from Parents Magazine, as bacteria becomes more and more exposed to antibiotics, potentially because of the overprescription, the bacteria actually changes over time so that the antibiotics becomes less effective. The antibiotics are still able to cure the weaker strands of bacteria, but the stronger strands that are capable of defying the antibiotics treatment grow and multiply. When Hughes mentioned antibiotic resistance it prompted me to question why antibiotic resistance occurs, and why antibiotics are overprescribed even when some illnesses, such as certain ear infections, can cure themselves. The conclusion I came to as to why antibiotics are overprescribed is that it is based on a mix between parental pressures on doctors, and doctors serving as businesspeople. When a parent takes their child to the pediatrician, and their child is in pain or discomfort, obviously the parent is going to want their child to get better as soon as possible. The recent generation of parents seem to rely on antibiotics as the only way to cure illnesses, and I can see how a parent may pressure a physician to prescribe an antibiotic so that their child gets better immediately. On the other hand, the doctor may be practicing unethically if he or she prescribes antibiotics in order to benefit the business side of medicine.

Why is there Antibiotic Resistance?

Diamond v Chakrabarty

This case is mentioned by Hughes in relation to Kiley’s filing of patents in 1977, the four of which were not reviewed until 1980, when this case was decided. The case is about whether the creation of a live, man made organism is patentable. The court said yes, it is patentable, and this opened the door for biotech companies to file for patents involving such organisms, such as, in this case, human genes and essential bacteria. Once these organisms are patented, they become property to the owner, free to do what they wish with that life. This is a hard concept to grasp, a legal ownership of life, and it brings many ethical implications into play in regards to patent law.

Diamond v Chakrabarty

Intro to Genentech: The Rise of a BioTech Giant

In these final weeks of the semester, our class is beginning the final book of our curriculum: Genentech by Sally Smith Hughes. It covers the rise of the biotech industry through the company Genentech and the groundbreaking work they did in order to create the biotech industry. Before going into the book, I decided to do a little research about the company. I found it funny that when I Googled their name, I was taken to www.gene.com, which is Genentech’s official web site. This simple web address kind of shows that the company has been around a long time. On their web site, they have tabs for scientists, job-seekers, media, and medical professionals, but I am led to a link lower down the page to a timeline celebrating Genentech’s 40th anniversary. An article about cloning insulin catches my eye, and reading it I see familiar names from Chapter 2, like Bob Swanson, Arthur Riggs, and Keiichi Itakura. It seems that Genentech is as proud of its history as Hughes is, and more than willing to share it! Either way, these “Genentech moments” on their web site seem like a great resource to use while reading the book, and I can’t wait to use them to supplement my reading!

Intro to Genentech: The Rise of a BioTech Giant

Silicon Valley: A new type of Manifest Destiny

“The plan was to exploit the rich opportunities for risk investment in the Bay Area. Arriving in 1970, Swanson encountered a thriving center of the microelectronics and computer industries in a region thirty miles south of San Francisco, soon to become known as Silicon Valley. It was without doubt the most entrepreneurial region in the world, boasting a refreshingly boundless, risk-tolerant, success-breeds-success culture in which an aspiring young person could spread his wings and try new things” (31).

In the 2 question forum, I asked questions into why and how California developed such a hot-bed for technological and other advancements in different fields. Silicon Valley, the most famous of any locations in Cali. in regard to technology. Clearly risk-tolerance, entrepreneurial culture, and relatively young people are the reasons for the success of the region. Also, the weather in California is probably a strong attraction for people to migrate to, especially from the colder weather of the east coast. “There’s something in the air here” may not be such an off phrase for “the most entrepreneurial region in the world” because of how people interact and network with one another. This area breeds innovation that has made it very successful, impacting people all over the world when you think about it. A 21st century, manifest destiny-type of migration will continue to attract young innovative people out to California, looking for ways to contribute to a region of success and influence.

Silicon Valley: A new type of Manifest Destiny

Patent Culture: Good or Bad? Or both?

“Reimers administered a patenting and licensing program that actively solicited faculty inventions for patenting in a manner new to academia. He read the Times article and immediately called Cohen to discuss a possible patent application. The suggestion caught Cohen by surprise. Despite his recognition of the invention’s potential practicality, his reaction was to question whether one could or should patent basic research findings. At the time, biomedical scientists in American universities were seldom preoccupied with patenting and intellectual property protection, even at a university as entrepreneurial as Stanford” (21).

In this quote, Cohen questions whether one could or should patent basic research findings, especially those that involve useful and general health information. Insulin and growth hormone are both crucial to development and survival, more so insulin, so why should there be any monopoly on this research. Cohen clearly was not motivated or incentivized by patent or intellectual property protection to conduct and follow through on his research. Moreover, his effort put into the field does not come from a selfish place of profit-seeking legal protection. After all this is academia where research is one of the main reasons for one’s craft, so one does have to enjoy this line of work in the first place. Granted, this was in the 1970s where particular pharmaceutical patents, notable ones born from academia, were not seen as outlets for patent-based incentives. Has this culture changed? When in the realm of crucial health research, are patents the first step to legitimizing research? Obviously this is the case because patents are seen as more necessary in this industry. Patents are not as much incentives as they are confirmations, or so it seems.

Patent Culture: Good or Bad? Or both?

Psychological Effects of Success and Failure

“We were young, and when you are successful, it helps enormously with your whole state of mind. It helps with your confidence; it helps with the publications you write; it helps with your future, with your career” (Hughes 51).

This quote is taken from Heyneker as he recalled the thrill he felt when he learned that synthetic DNA could be immortalized. After reading this, I was curious to know the psychology behind success and failure and how it affects the brain and the body. I looked to the article, Psychology Today, for more information, and found some interesting facts. For example, psychologists study something referred to as the Cycle of Failure. This is the time period when failure sets in, resulting in various mental effects. The cycle progresses as follows: Unconscious fear, Wish Fulfilment or Desire to Fail, Overconfidence or Lack of Confidence, Perception of Failure, Anger with oneself and others, Sorrow and grief, Loss of Confidence/Motivation, Unconscious Fear. Clearly, this is a cycle filled with pain and general unhappy feelings, creating continuous domino-effect results in the brain. Another interesting concept I came across was that failure weakens our ability to think creatively due to the fact that once we fail once, we fear failing again. According to the article, failure we start to perceive failure as being too risky, thus we limit our ability to create new ideas. On the other hand, happiness obviously bears a more positive weight psychologically and ultimately gives us an advantage in life and work. According to Forbes, success results in increased motivation, self-confidence, improved leadership skills, and overall happiness. These ideas are interesting to consider as Genentech continues.

 

Psychological Effects of Success and Failure

NIH Grant Funding Process

Chapter 3 of Genentech mentions how Riggs applied for a grant from the National Institute of Health to conduct his research on somatostatin.  I was curious how someone, or some company, would apply for a scientific grant today from the NIH and how the process worked.  The following   webpage from the NIH’s site explains how the full process is conducted.  After determining a careful plan and deadlines, much like Riggs did with his three years of research estimation, the NIH provides a broad range of federal grant-making agencies that can provide one with funding opportunities.  Once a company applies for a grant, the NIH’s Division of Receipt and Referral, within the Center for Scientific Review, will determine the area of research the application falls in and review it based on its how relevant it is.  During months 4-8 of this process, the proposal will be peer reviewed and rightfully awarded thereafter.  Progress reports must be made during the research and all results generating by the funded experiments must be made available to the public.  I feel like the 9-10 months it takes to be awarded a grant is a long time, especially for scientists eager to test their theories, however having the process set up over this time period allows the CSR to fully review the applications.  Overall, the process is rightfully tedious for the amount of money that can be awarded for research to discover new scientific things that can benefit the public.

NIH Grant Funding Process

Venture Capitalism in Biotechnology

In a field such as biotechnology, many expenses must go into research and experimentation. Obviously, most scientists do not have millions of dollars to fund their own work. Money can come from either government grants, or private sources. The book talks about venture capitalists, or people who invest in startup companies with the hope of making a large profit.

An article about jobs in biotechnology, describes venture capitalism and what such a job would entail. Venture capitalists have a key role in the translation of scientific innovation from idea to commercial reality. Investments are typically designed to fund through one or more important milestones, such as a clinical trial or product launch, that will drive value in either the public markets or the eyes of acquirers. Financial market conditions may make it difficult to get a good return on investments in some of the most promising, but very early-stage technologies.

http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v26/n10/full/nbt1008-1195.html

Venture Capitalism in Biotechnology

Moneymaker

“Swanson, bringing his business training to bear, found insulin economics impressive. The hormone was an immense and reliable moneymaker for a number of American and European pharmaceutical houses, wuth world sales greater than $100 million and growing” – Hughes, 38

In chapter 2 of Genentech, Hughes refers to insulin as a moneymaker. Though insulin was primarily created as a means of helping diabetics, it also found a booming market with thousands of customers willing to pay for what they need. These diabetics are forced to pay for the insulin to help their condition, no matter what the price is. This notion had reminded me of our earlier discussions of Martin Shkreli, the man who hiked up the price for Daraprim, a life-saving AIDs medicine, by over 5000% and led me to the question: is the hiking of drug prices a common occurrence? According to Bloomberg LP, a financial software company, the prices of several drugs get hiked every year with no changes to the actual drug. Apparently, a survey of about 3K brand-name prescription drugs found that prices more than doubled for 60 of these drugs and more than quadrupled for 20 of them. For reference, the chart below, also taken from Bloomberg’s website, shows a list of drugs whose prices had been hiked and by what percentage this hike was.
Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 8.02.37 PMThough Martin Shkreli’s drug, Daraprim, is the highest hiked drug, there are several other drugs which were hiked over 500%. Some drugs even continue to rise by 10% every year. I personally believe that this is an unethical practice and this belief me to the question: are there any legal stances that could be made against this? How high do drug prices have to get for attention to be called to this issue?

Moneymaker

The Politics of Science

“The biomedical research community, Cohen and Boyer prominently included, mounted an intense lobbying effort to persuade Congress not to impose legislative controls on scientifically significant research” (Hughes 66)

Throughout the course we have learned there are many obstacles in the way of scientific progress from money, police enforcement, and even trade. However, it appears that the biggest roadblock in the way of science might be the government. Throughout this book it seems that there are bureaucratic measures taken by the government that in turn results in the lack of progress in the world of science. However, it should be the case that science and government work hand in hand. The government should go out of the way to provide more opportunities to scientists rather than limit them. In today’s day and age scientists are looking for funding from venture capitalists rather grants or government subsidies. Therefore it appears to me the government should increase its involvement with science in order to provide improvement in the industry.

The Politics of Science

Congress Restrictions on GMO

The issue was brought up in the book on page 66 about congress restricting genetic engineering experiment. This was an interesting topic for me and made me wonder what exactly these restrictions entailed, especially dealing with genetically modified organisms. I have some previous knowledge on GMOs and how they are engineered in order to make life easier for humans. For example healthier vegetables, and crops that are designed to resist pests and bad weather. So I found an article that details all the restrictions on GMOs, opinions on them, legislation, and even how different organizations are involved with this process.

https://www.loc.gov/law/help/restrictions-on-gmos/usa.php

The article acknowledges that people do have mixed feelings towards GMOs. Some are very positive towards them and recognizes the benefits of them, but then there are some who say they would not eat genetically modified food because of unknown or modified ingredients. It then goes on to explain that GMOs are dealt with by environmental, health, and safety laws. The FDA wants to have a consultation procedure with GMO growers in order to make sure that the food is safe. The EPA makes sure that the environment is still safe when pesticides and microorganisms are introduced through genetic engineering. Although the state does not have much of a role in regulating GMOs in the United States.

This article was very surprising to me because I had no idea the process that legislation went to to define what is allowed to do and what is not.

Congress Restrictions on GMO

Biomedical Patent Controversy

Over the course of this semester, we have been discussing patents, the difficulties with patent laws, and ethical controversies over patents. I noticed this recurring theme in Chapter 1, when Reimers suggested the Cohen and Boyer patent their invention of recombinant DNA.

“Patenting in academic biomedicine was controversial on ethical grounds. . .a common belief dating to the early years of the century was that discoveries in biomedicine, especially those related to human health, should be publicly available and not restricted by patents.” ( Hughes, 21).

The Hastings Center, a “nonpartisan research institution dedicated to bioethics and the public interest” published an article written by Josephine Johnston, titled “Intellectual Property and Biomedicine.”   In this article, Johnston dives into the history and concern around biomedical patents. In this article, she touches on some of the most important ethical questions around biomedical patents:

“Is it acceptable to assert ownership over material derived from the human body? Do all these patents meet the legal criteria for patenting? What are the consequences for research—could patents slow the pace of innovation by restricting access to biological materials and processes? What are the consequences for lifesaving tests and treatments—could patents limit access to them?” (Johnston)

Johnston touches on most of the important areas surrounding biomedical patents. She explains the history, advantages and disadvantage of patenting, and some of the current legal policies surrounding biomedical patents. Its easy to throw a patent on a novel, physical invention and claim ownership. The lines become blurred when the novel item in question is not physically tangible, but still beneficial and profitable. The controversy over whether or not intellectual material can or should be patented is deeper than many may suspect. This short article is a great resource for learning about some of the implications about intellectual patents and how it relates to the biomedical and biotechnology fields specifically.

 

Biomedical Patent Controversy

Happy Accidents and Recombinant DNA

Sally Smith Hughes’ book, Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech, discusses the importance of biotechnology in the modern world of science. Specifically, she delves into the creation of Genentech as a biotechnology company, but first talks how recombinant DNA played a large role in the biotechnology community. She refers to recombinant DNA as a form of genetic engineering that is widely used. What is the most interesting about this chapter is the experiments conducted by Boyer and Cohen in which recombinant DNA was further investigated. Specifically, research was done on plasmids to understand if these forms of circular DNA would pick up different pieces of DNA and then be expressed in an organism different from the type of organism in which the original DNA came from. The great thing about science, is experiments can go wrong but allow for new discoveries to come about. This is exactly what happened with Boyer and Cohen. Hughes states,

“Boyer and Hellig examined the electrophoresis gels displaying the various DNA fragments. There in plain sight was telltale band composed of two types of plasmid DNA standing out in fluorescent orange . To their inestimable joy, they had not only recombined DNA – they cloned it! The engineered plasmids with their ability to reproduce themselves in the bacterial cells had also faithfully cloned the foreign DNA inserted into them” (p15).

This was interesting because it related directly back to Steven Johnson’s ideas of “happy accidents.” Boyer, Hellig, and Cohen were working to recombine DNA and to their surprise another result occurred. This now opened opportunities to investigate the cloning process and how DNA of many different organisms can be cloned and reproduced. Overall, this first chapter offers insight into the power of biotechnology and understanding how genes work.

Happy Accidents and Recombinant DNA