24, 2002: Behind
the Biotech Boom
Rathmann *51's enthusiasm for research and head for business gave
rise to a $22-billion industry
By Argelio R. Dumenigo
The sidelines at the friendly football games George Rathmann *51
played in during his graduate school days at Princeton were frequented
by some hard-hitting intellectuals.
On any given afternoon, Nobel laureate Albert Einstein or future
winner John Nash *50 might stroll over to the field outside Frick
Laboratory, where Rathmann and his chemistry classmates would play
touch football as a break from research, classes, and experiments.
No matter what Rathmann did on the makeshift gridiron, the 6'-4"
former Milwaukee high school basketball star would have been hard
to miss. Encounters with scientific luminaries such as Einstein
and J. Robert Oppenheimer were just as hard to ignore and
left a lasting impression on the man who would essentially create
the biotechnology industry.
"There was a lot of magic," says Rathmann.
That magic must have rubbed off on him. In 1980 he founded Amgen,
Inc. today the world's largest independent biotechnology
company which in turn gave rise to the $22.3-billion U.S.
biotechnology industry. Equated with inventors such as Henry Ford
and Benjamin Franklin, Rathmann is treated within his field "with
a reverence otherwise reserved for favorite teams and Mom,"
as one biotech industry writer put it.
"It's one thing to start a company and it's another to manage
spectacular growth successfully, and he's demonstrated extraordinary
talent," says Patrick McGeer *52, who once worked and played
alongside Rathmann and is now professor emeritus of neurological
research at the University of British Columbia.
Rathmann jokes, "I'm almost always viewed by business people
as one of the best scientists they know and I'm almost always viewed
by scientists as one of the best business people they know. Now
the common denominator is that I'm not much of a scientist or a
In truth, he's both. At Amgen, Rathmann's research and development
experience, coupled with his charming smile and outgoing personality,
helped turn the $18-million startup into a multi-billion operation.
The company's focus on proteins and recombinant DNA technology
the transfer of a gene from one organism into another organism,
literally DNA from different sources that have been recombined
led to the development of treatments such as Amgen's first product,
Epogen. The red-blood cell stimulant, which supplements the supply
of the naturally occurring substance produced by healthy kidneys
called erythropoietin, is used by dialysis patients suffering from
anemia. The company later used the same recombinant DNA technology
to develop Neupogen, a white-blood cell stimulator that aids in
fighting infections for people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
Combined, the two products had sales of nearly $3 billion in 1999.
More important, says Rathmann, they helped people go on with their
That human side of his work is something that touches Rathmann
deeply. At Alumni Day in February, when he was awarded the James
Madison Medal for distinguished graduate alumni, he delivered a
speech in which he flipped to a slide of a woman on dialysis whose
health improved dramatically after taking Epogen. The burly entrepreneur
had to hold back tears as he told the audience about the patient's
daughter, who thanked him for giving her mother back to her.
The enriched lives that come with successful treatments is the
reason Rathmann has spoken out through the years about the new-drug
approval process at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Currently,
it can take up to 12 years and nearly $500 million to get a medication
through the process and into the hands of patients.
"We ought to attempt to do better and be aware of the fact
that the so-called safe path of rejection and delaying and preventing
something from being tested seems safe because it means that nothing
can go wrong," says Rathmann. "All you have to do is be
exposed to a critically ill population, some members of which perish
before a lifesaving drug is available, and you realize that, wow,
if we could have saved six weeks or 10 weeks we could have saved
that life. We could have changed that person's state of health by
an enormous amount. I think that message has to be there all the
Rathmann, who now chairs the board at Hyseq in Sunnyvale, California,
and at Seattle's ZymoGenetics, which recently went public, has watched
the biotechnology field grow from about eight U.S. companies in
1980 to an estimated 1,273 in 2000, according to the Biotechnology
Rathmann's personal fortune has grown along with the industry.
He now travels in his own jet a far cry from the $25 car
Rathmann sold to his classmate McGeer when the pair parted ways
at graduation. "That car would never have made it to Illinois,"
McGeer quips. That's where Rathmann and his wife, Joy, were headed
after graduation, for a job at 3M. Rathmann worked at 3M for 21
years, where, among other accomplishments, he aided in the development
of one of the company's signature products, Scotchgard.
He moved on to Litton Industries in 1972 and later to Abbott Laboratories,
where he served as vice president of research and development before
leaving to start Amgen.
Rathmann cofounded another biotech firm, ICOS, in 1990. The Washington-based
company, which focuses on protein-based and small-molecule therapeutics,
got off the ground with $30 million in initial funding, including
$5 million from Microsoft magnate Bill Gates. Rathmann is credited
with later wooing another round of funding from Gates by matching
the billionaire's investment dollar-for-dollar.
Despite his success, Rathmann is not afraid to admit that he's
had his share of failure. "I've been associated with some pretty
big disappointments at some companies and I've watched some others
have disasters, but you can come out whole after a short time and
actually learn from the experience," he says. "There are
very few things that can happen that are irreversibly damaging to
your career, to your attitude, and to your ability to contribute."
His current contributions at Hyseq focus on research involving
the sequencing of genes with an eye towards the development of treatments
for cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and inflammatory and infectious
Rathmann is excited by the advances made in the sequencing of
the human genome during the last few years, not only for the boost
they give his industry, but for the potential they have to wipe
out common diseases and conditions. Although he, like many others,
initially thought the breakthroughs in genetic research would be
a shortcut for success, Rathmann realizes there is a lot of research
and testing ahead.
"The sequencing of the human genome last year was a positive
jolt for the whole field of biotechnology. A lot of stocks benefited
from more enthusiasm, more visibility, more general confidence that
this was going to change how we do things and it will
but it's going to be another few years before we see the real benefits.
We've barely scratched the surface of what its impact is going to
be," he explains. "It's kind of fun to watch it unfold."
Rathmann's excitement over research is what led him to Princeton.
He earned his undergraduate degree in physical chemistry at Northwestern
University in 1948 in just three years, and it was his senior adviser
at Northwestern, Robert Burwell, Jr. *36, who suggested Princeton
Once on campus, Rathmann says he was inspired by professors who
gave their graduate students plenty of attention, including Charles
Smyth '16 *17, Walter Kauzmann *40, and Hugh Stott Taylor, who headed
the chemistry department from 1926 to 1951.
Smyth, his thesis adviser, served as Rathmann's mentor before
the term was trendy, Rathmann says. "He was an inspiration
because he was always right. He was very careful about facts and
very thorough. If he took a sharp pencil to any paper you wrote,
it was always vastly improved," he recalls.
Dean Taylor, who was later knighted by the Queen of England, was
dedicated to keeping his students abreast of new developments, Rathmann
says. "Dean Taylor almost invariably came to physical chemistry
class with a recent issue of the Journal of Physical Chemistry under
his arm and you just knew that he was anxious to keep us current
and actively interested in the emerging science of the time,"
Rathmann still follows Taylor's example, staying on top of scientific
advances, even though the chairman and CEO titles he has held could
have shifted him away from it. "I think that a person who is
strictly a manager and has lost interest in the science, or never
really wanted to bother with it, really has severe limitations in
leading new efforts on scientific frontiers," he says.
There are plenty of new efforts in biotechnology right now. With
more than 350 biotech drug products and vaccines currently in clinical
trials targeting more than 200 diseases, including various cancers,
Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis,
AIDS, and arthritis, the future of the biotechnology industry looks
bright, says Rathmann. But he says that a drop in investments is
definitely taking a toll on many companies, which have been forced
to lay people off or shut their doors altogether.
"We've gone through a longer period of time than I could
remember of really tough times for financing, and in our system
we believe it should be on your shoulders to raise money and get
your job done," he says. "But I think the industry is
still thriving. If you look at the pace of discovery, it has not
slackened at all, even though there has been a lot of pressure on
companies to make ends meet. The opportunities today, I feel, are
as great as they ever were."
Argelio R. Dumenigo is PAW's associate editor.
The academics of terrorism
What Princeton professors are exploring in their research
By Melissa Harvis Renny '03
Even before the U.S. watched the twin towers fall, Princeton faculty
members were working to stop terrorism around the globe.
The psychology department researched American right-wing extremists,
from militias to white supremacists, trying to understand what drove
them to violence. In the Woodrow Wilson School, professors worked
to reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons in the U.S. and the Soviet
Union so that these weapons would not fall into the wrong hands.
Professors in the politics department studied terrorist organizations
in Africa in relation to the U.S. embassy bombings of 1998, examining
why certain countries were havens for terrorists.
Since the terrorist attacks on the U.S., Princeton faculty members
have continued their work, applying it to the constant, current
threat of terrorism in the U.S. Through papers, lectures, and legislation,
Princeton University is helping to fight the war on terrorism.
"Terrorism depends on a viewpoint," said Jon Drummond,
a graduate student in the social psychology department who is doing
research on what motivates terrorists. "I try to look and see
how the world appears through the eyes of the terrorists."
In order to help the government better understand the way that
terrorists think, Drummond and Eldar Shafir, a professor of psychology
and public affairs, attended an FBI conference in February on countering
terrorism. At the conference, researchers, academic scholars, and
personnel from justice, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies
combined their knowledge on different aspects of terrorism and made
recommendations to the FBI.
Drummond and Shafir also provided input to Senator Ron Wyden's
(D-Ore.) Science and Technology Emergency Mobilization Act. This
bill would create a science and technology equivalent to the National
Guard, mobilizing academics and security experts to work together
for U.S. security.
"I think that one of the lessons learned from September 11
is that just the process or just the intention to mobilize and bring
to bear all applicable knowledge was probably lacking in many ways,"
On campus, Drummond is working with John Darley, a professor of
psychology and public affairs, on a theory that explains how people
come to extreme views. Called "deviant legitimation,"
this theory asserts that terrorists move toward violence through
a series of recognizable steps over time that leads them to lose
faith in their establishment or government, and then to justify
their use of violence. Drummond stressed that terrorists do not
become violent overnight; rather it is a long, slow process full
of thwarted efforts.
"You can't understand why this [September 11] happened until
you see the way that the world looks through the eyes of those people,"
Frederick Hitz '61, director of the Woodrow Wilson School's Project
on International Intelligence, agrees that seeing the world through
the eyes of the terrorists is crucial. The Inspector General of
the CIA from 1990 through 1998, Hitz claims that before the CIA
can change its rules of operation in regard to terrorism, it needs
to understand terrorist cultures.
"What we really need to do is strengthen the cadre of analysts
and intelligence collectors who work on these issues, because it
seems to me there is not really much excuse for not knowing the
threat that fundamentalist Islam and disgruntled citizens of the
Middle East pose to the U.S. as the big target, and to the West
in general, because of our prosperity and success and their poverty
and hopelessness," he said.
In a recent article for the Harvard Journal of Law and Public
Policy, Hitz assessed the pros and cons of using of spies to gather
international information, giving the CIA law enforcement powers,
allowing assassinations during peacetime, and recruiting journalists
and academics as agents. Hitz stressed the need to preserve U.S.
citizens' constitutional rights while protecting the country from
The nuclear threat
Protecting the U.S. from terrorist threats is something Frank
von Hippel, director of the Program in Science and Global Security
at the Woodrow Wilson School, has done for years. As the former
assistant director for national security in the White House Office
of Science and Technology, and the chairman of the Federation of
American Scientists, von Hippel holds a strong belief that nuclear
weapons are intrinsically terrorist weapons.
"Nuclear weapons are weapons of terror whether countries
own them or terrorists own them," he said.
In the days following the September 11 attack, von Hippel and
his colleagues on the Russian American Nuclear Security Advisory
Council (RANSAC) sent a letter to President Bush and Russian President
Vladimir Putin, urging the leaders to prevent terrorists from gaining
access to nuclear weapons. The letter called on the U.S. and Russia
to revive underfunded programs that would eliminate nuclear materials
left over from the cold war, because "inadequately secured
nuclear material anywhere is a threat to all nations everywhere."
Von Hippel expressed specific concerns about Pakistan's stockpile
of weapon-grade uranium in an article for the Journal of the Federation
of American Scientists. Weapon-grade uranium is highly enriched
uranium that, von Hippel said, educated terrorists could turn into
a gun type nuclear explosive like the one the U,S, used on Hiroshima
during World War II. In the article, Von Hippel made a series of
recommendations that included increasing the security of fissile
material, increasing transparency between countries about the size
of their nuclear stockpiles, ending the production of Plutonium
and highly enriched uranium (HEU), and disposing of excess stocks.
In order to make these recommendations realities, von Hippel and
his colleagues worked with a series of NGOs (non-governmental organizations)
to reverse the Bush administration's initial decision to cut funding
for these programs. After September 11, when the administration
received $40 billion supplemental to the fiscal budget, von Hippel
and his colleagues lobbied so that a portion of this money would
go to these key programs. Due to their efforts, the administration
reevaluated the budget and allocated $250 million of the money toward
programs with Russia that will reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism.
While this money will help programs in need, the struggle to insure
safety is far from over. Von Hippel is currently working with graduate
students in the Woodrow Wilson School on protection against weapons
of mass destruction. One method of protection they are researching
is potassium iodide pills. When a nuclear explosion occurs, radioactive
iodide is inhaled and goes directly to the thyroid gland, increasing
the chance of thyroid cancer. By saturating the thyroid with nonradioactive
iodide the potassium iodide pills people can protect
themselves from the health effects of a nuclear catastrophe.
Zia Mian, a colleague of von Hippel's in the Woodrow Wilson School,
is examining the distribution of these potassium iodide pills in
the areas around nuclear reactors as a part of his task force this
semester. Mian's task force will examine the possible effects of
terrorism on nuclear power plants, using three power plants in New
Jersey for models.
"An attack on a nuclear power station can be potentially
catastrophic," Mian said. "A nuclear power station is
a fixed nuclear weapon of sorts."
While professors in the Woodrow Wilson School and the Psychology
Department have been able to work for immediate change, other professors
have had a more difficult time finding their place in the torrent
of research on terrorism. Jeffrey Herbst '83, chair of the politics
fepartment, claims that academics have had a particularly hard time
focusing their work since September 11.
"I think academics are particularly challenged when the world
changes like it did on September 11, and we want to be relevant
to day-to-day controversies, but we have to stick to what I think
is our comparative advantage, which is trying to put these things
in larger context, and trying to think about more than what's going
to happen in the next 48 or 72 hours," Herbst said.
Herbst will put the attacks in a larger context in a conference
he is planning for late September that will focus on the heterogeneity
of views in the Islamic world. He sees the conference as a platform
to expose the U.S. to ideas in the Muslim world that may not be
"The basic idea is that a lot of people in Muslim countries
have all kinds of notions about democracy, about terrorism and the
like, and they don't have a very big voice in these countries because
the governments are authoritarian and because the fundamentalists
in many cases, have crowded them out or intimidated them,"
A year after the terrorist attacks, this conference will provide
testimony to Princeton faculty's work toward a greater understanding
of Islamic cultures, work that, they hope, will prevent terrorism
from occurring in the future.