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Gene Jockeys

, 264 pages

12 line drawings

April 2014



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Gene Jockeys

Life Science and the Rise of Biotech Enterprise

The biotech arena emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, when molecular biology, one of the fastest-moving areas of basic science in the twentieth century, met the business world. Gene Jockeys is a detailed study of the biotech projects that led to five of the first ten recombinant DNA drugs to be approved for medical use in the United States: human insulin, human growth hormone, alpha interferon, erythropoietin, and tissue plasminogen activator.

Drawing on corporate documents obtained from patent litigation, as well as interviews with the ambitious biologists who called themselves gene jockeys, historian Nicolas Rasmussen chronicles the remarkable, and often secretive, work of the scientists who built a new domain between academia and the drug industry in the pursuit of intellectual rewards and big payouts. In contrast to some who critique the rise of biotechnology, Rasmussen contends that biotech was not a swindle, even if the public did pay a very high price for the development of what began as public scientific resources. Within the biotech enterprise, the work of corporate scientists went well beyond what biologists had already accomplished within universities, and it accelerated the medical use of the new drugs by several years.

In his technically detailed and readable narrative, Rasmussen focuses on the visible and often heavy hands that construct and maintain the markets in public goods like science. He looks closely at how science follows money, and vice versa, as researchers respond to the pressures and potential rewards of commercially viable innovations. In biotechnology, many of those engaged in crafting markets for genetically engineered drugs were biologists themselves who were in fact trying to do science.

This book captures that heady, fleeting moment when a biologist could expect to do great science through the private sector and be rewarded with both wealth and scientific acclaim.

Nicolas Rasmussen is a professor of humanities at the University of New South Wales. His most recent book is On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine.

"Biologist and science historian Nicolas Rasmussen delicately unravels the tangled fibres of discovery, entrepreneurship and lab life in the first decades of genetic engineering... An engaging, ultimately elegiac tale of lost innocence, as researchers struggle with the angel of the search for truth on one shoulder, and the devil of wealth and fame on the other."

" Gene Jockeys is a scholarly and fascinating account of the early days of the biotechnology industry. With lots of technical detail this should appeal to the serious molecular biologists and biotechnologists interested in the roots of their discipline."

"Following the twists and turns in the experimental paths that yielded the first recombinant drugs, Rasmussen offers a clear view of the difficulties encountered in the application of the new science of recombinant DNA to bacterial synthesis for drug production. His thorough search of legal documents relating to patents enriches this account of the race to market. A tour de force ."

"A fascinating and highly entertaining account—essential not just for historians of business and the life sciences, but also for intellectual property scholars."

"This is a remarkably original account of the first two decades of the biotechnology industry, when molecular geneticists from academia joined with venture capitalists and hungry investors to form smart and nimble companies. Rasmussen tells a rich and eye-opening story, spotlighting how the first generation of biotechnologists made their firms vital outposts of academic culture and how the firms achieved and marketed blockbuster drugs. In all, an even-handed, informative, and important book."

" Gene Jockeys offers an insightful, comprehensive, and exciting story that faithfully evokes the earliest days of modern biotechnology. An outstanding read for scientists and anyone interested in biotech."

"Although some would assign more societal benefit and importance to the early products of biotech than Rasmussen, the stories of the competition between teams of scientists to produce the first set of human proteins as therapeutics are both exciting and revealing of the faults of mankind."

"This provides an engrossing blend of technical survey and business history reconmmended for science and business collections alike!"

"An engaging, informative work appropriate for general readers and beginning students of molecular biology or biotechnology."

" Gene Jockeys deftly conveys a sense of the excitement and technical challenges of this time when free-wheeling scientists pursued their passions in newly evolving commercial settings."

"Scholars generally should appreciate Rasmussen's careful research and the wide sweep of source material that he references in extensive notes."

"Rasmussen achieves admirably what he sets out to accomplish... Gene Jockeys will be the go-to source on the history of the biotech industry for some time to come, and particularly regarding the scientific and legal developments on which that industry's growth rested."

"Rasmussen’s book deserves to be read by business historians, historians of science, journalists, and anyone who wants to better understand the early days of genetic engineering through the days of investor hype to the absorption of small biotech experiments by much greater entities."

"Overall, Gene Jockeys is an impressive book that brings together many known, but scattered, narratives with a new frame of reference... Any scholars interested in the history of early biotechnology will find Gene Jockeys essential reading."

"It should be emphasized that although Gene Jockeys productively complements other historical accounts of biotech, the book also stands on its own quite well. Rasmussen’s account owes much of its usefulness to his creativity and care in supporting his claims by drawing from the scientific literature, oral histories, and especially legal documents."

".. Any one interested in the history of modern biotech and the attitudes that shaped it will find valuable insights."

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