If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.


Biological Chemistry

Genentech Not First Biotech

December 10, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 50

As a longtime subscriber to C&EN and a 25-year ACS member, I must respond to a serious mistake made in the article on Herbert Boyer (C&EN, Sept. 10, page 26). Other than this error, I enjoyed the article.

The article states that Boyer formed the world's first biotechnology company, Genentech. This is incorrect. In 1971, a full five years earlier, Cetus Corp. was established in Berkeley, Calif., by Ronald Cape, a biochemist; Peter Farley, a physician; and Don Glaser, a Nobel Laureate physicist, among others. Indeed, they started the company a year or two before publication of the exciting discovery of recombinant DNA by Stan Cohen and Paul Berg of Stanford University and Boyer of the University of California, San Francisco.

I was lucky enough to join other Cetus consultants such as Cohen and Nobel Laureate Joshua Lederberg as advisers to the company at its very start. The vision of the founders of Cetus resulted in a major industry serving the needs of patients throughout the world and revolutionizing the practice of industrial microbiology and agricultural technology.

Although it was incorporated into Chiron Corp. in the mid-1990s, and then later into Novartis, Cetus should long be remembered as the founder of modern biotechnology and the home of the inventor of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique of enormous importance in forensic medicine and basic science. The discoverer of PCR was Kary Mullis of Cetus, who holds the first and probably the only Nobel Prize ever awarded to an employee of the biotechnology industry.

Arnold L. Demain
Madison, N.J.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.