April 4, 2001: Class Notes


1991-2000 & Graduate School

Class Notes Features:

Carl Feldbaum '66 leads biotechs through Washington thicket

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Carl Feldbaum '66 leads biotechs through Washington thicket

Carl B. Feldbaum ’66 majored in biology at Princeton, but he found life in the lab “isolating” — so much so that it was almost three decades before he returned to the subject. Now, following detours through law, politics, national security, and intelligence, Feldbaum is back in a big way, serving as president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) — the lobbying and communications arm of the fast-growing, and often controversial, biotech industry.

As a political independent who’s worked for a variety of Republican and Democratic bosses, Feldbaum is well suited to steering the nation’s 1,300-plus biotech companies through the Washington thicket.

Feldbaum has been BIO’s leader since its 1993 formation. Since then, BIO has grown from 16 people to 60, and from a $1.7 million budget to $25 million. With the rapidly expanding industry facing plenty of divisive issues — from human cloning to genetically modified foods to prescription drug policy — Feldbaum spends at least 30 percent of his time talking with reporters and broadcasters, often to parry attacks made by the industry’s most passionate critics. (Feldbaum recently named Lee Rawls ’66 — the former chief of staff to Senator Bill Frist ’74 — as his chief lobbyist.)

Ironically, the scientific advances in his field have come so fast that not even Feldbaum manages to keep up. “You can no longer get away with knowing just molecular biology,” he says. “The field has converged with information technology, engineering, robotics, and optics. I can probably understand about 20-something percent of the articles in Science or Cell.”

Over the past year, BIO’s agenda began to hit home in a personal way. After taking a biotech diagnostic test, Feldbaum — a dedicated runner and swimmer — was diagnosed with a presymptomatic form of prostate cancer. He underwent successful surgery and returned to work three weeks later.

Feldbaum urges continued efforts to chart a course through the moral challenges of the new technologies. “We’re going to have to have rules of the road for handling genetic information,” he says, “so that people are not afraid to take diagnostic tests that enable them to get diagnosed like I did.”

By Louis Jacobson ’92

Louis Jacobson covers lobbying for National Journal.

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