California: Hotbed of Innovation

Introduction

 

Biotechnology as a major field within science has led to many new companies copying the Genentech blueprint: having a small company creating commercially viable products to earn profits. This movement from a purely academic scope of research to a company thriving in an industrial market has become a popular choice for those interested in the sciences, offering more career opportunities. From the 1970s on, a number of companies would emerge to follow the example set by Genentech. This would result in a major growth of the field, located in California.

California has become the true center of biotechnology in the U.S, as the birth place of the industry as well as having numerous companies making products in a multitude of fields. Because of this environment, being surrounded by other biotech companies, a sense of innovation is greatly encouraged, as competition will enable a surge of creativity. This anthology details several examples of how California has become the epicenter of biotech, ranging from peculiar facts about the history of Californian biotech to present companies developing new products within the biotech field. The hotbed of innovation exhibited by the California environment is shown through the amount of diverse companies and novel products.

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California: Hotbed of Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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

Somatostatin Information

Chapter 3 focuses on a new idea instead of insulin which is the polypeptide somatostatin. I was curious what it is used for in the body because they appear to be connecting it to insulin and the pancreas. I googled it and found that  Somatostatin, is a “polypeptide that inhibits the activity of certain pancreatic and gastrointestinal hormones.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)  Additionally  I learned that somatostatin is produced “In the pancreas, somatostatin is produced by the delta cells of the islets of Langerhans, where it serves to block the secretion of both insulin and glucagon from adjacent cells.” (Encyclopedia Britannica). I found it interesting that Alzheimers disease is found to decrease levels of the polypeptide and I wasn’t sure why. I am glad I googled what it was because I have a much clearer idea of what they are trying to accomplish and how it relates to making insulin.

http://www.britannica.com/science/somatostatin

Somatostatin Information