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Robert A. Swanson

Co-founder of Genentech

“The commercial potential of recombinant DNA technology”

Robert Swanson is not easily deterred. In 1975, when he first became intrigued by the commercial potential of recombinant DNA technology, he confronted a wall of skepticism. Many scientists and businesspeople believed that commercialization was 20 years away. In a meeting with Herbert Boyer, a biochemist at the University of California at San Francisco, the two agreed to investigate the commercial feasibility of biotechnology. It was a move that gave birth to Genentech.

From the beginning, Swanson realized the opportunities for recombinant DNA technology to create beneficial products. Under his guidance, Genentech provided broad applications of science to modern society, developing new products such as human insulin, interferons, human growth hormone, and thrombolytic agents. Recently, the company announced that is will invest $17 million in Gen Vec, a new company developing a treatment for cystic fibrosis.

Genentech was the first biotechnology company to carry a drug from the promise of the laboratory to the reality of a marketed pharmaceutical. The company has done so two more times. As a result, many children who might otherwise be severely short are reaching normal height, heart attack victims who might otherwise be disabled or dead carry on with their lives, and a few children with a rare disorder who have been plagued by constant infections fight them off more easily. Today, Genentech is a leading biotechnology company that discovers, develops, manufactures, and markets human pharmaceuticals for significant medical needs.

Genentech has taken a leadership role in addressing issues that affect the welfare of its employees and patients who could benefit from the company's products but who cannot afford them. In 1989, Genentech opened the nation's largest company-sponsored, on-site day-care center for children of its employees. The company also believes its drugs should be available to all patients who need them. Genetech's Uninsured Patients Program (UPP) makes its drugs available free to patients who are uninsured and cannot afford the treatments. Since the program began in 1986, Genentech has provided more than $76 million worth of products to uninsured patients.