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Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech


4.05  ·  Rating details ·  390 ratings  ·  34 reviews
In the fall of 1980, Genentech, Inc., a little-known California genetic engineering company, became the overnight darling of Wall Street, raising over $38 million in its initial public stock offering. Lacking marketed products or substantial profit, the firm nonetheless saw its share price escalate from $35 to $89 in the first few minutes of trading, at that point the larg ...more
Hardcover, 232 pages
Published October 19th 2011 by University of Chicago Press (first published January 1st 2009)
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Richard Zhu
May 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A great history of Genentech's evolution from underfunded company with no office to IPO. Full of interesting details like:
* In the early days, they ran "ho-ho" beer happy hours, which were more characteristic of Silicon Valley free-wheeling startups than pharmaceutical companies of the day.
* Genentech employees were injected with Genentech's synthetic HGH as a safety study prior to Phase 1 "first-in-man" trials.
* Under the stress of competing to be the first to produce synthetic HGH, a former em
Jan 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My reading of Genentech follows my reading Science lessons abotu Amgen and this is a review I published elsewhere (my blog) os apologies for any inconsistency...

I have to admit I had never heard of the Bancroft Library’s website ( for the Program in Bioscience and Biotechnology Studies, “which centerpiece is a continually expanding oral history collection on bioscience and biotechnology [with ] in-depth, fully searchable interviews with basic biological s
Oct 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I found "Genentech" to be informative and interesting and extremely well-written.

I feel like Sally Hughes did a great job of contextualizing Genentech's early founding story, providing valuable insight on the political, social, academic, and legal/patent environment at the time. I feel like the book spent the perfect amount of time on each topic area (the personalities behind Genentech, the impact of government policy, the tension between academia and science) without rambling or going into exc
Jan 29, 2021 rated it liked it
Didn't quite finish it. While it's interesting, it seemed quite biased and got quite repetitive. ...more
Justin Wing
Feb 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
I personally enjoyed reading this book. I learned about the stories of the people behind Genentech. I am inspired by the pioneers of the biotech industry and am thankful to Boyer and Swanson for paving the way for others to follow. This book has changed the way I thought about biotechnology and has reignited my passion for the basic sciences.
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting and fascinating story about Genentech and startups in general. I especially like Boyer's philosophy about research and attracting talent. I think it should be a must-read for people in pharma and biotech also given the fact that Genentech is still a very innovative company and has contributed significantly to new modalities and drugs that have made a huge difference for many patients. ...more
Jan 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is a nice good that detailedly introduces the development of Genentech: including the initial experiments, creation of company (business plan and recruitment), collaboration with other big companies, products grinding, and finally public offering. It's amazing that the author really captured the thoughts and words during the whole process and let us better feel the ups and downs, and understand the whole procedures. The work ethics, determination, focus of human-centered products, respect t ...more
Ignacio Sartori
Oct 11, 2019 rated it liked it
I enjoy reading stories about how persons or companies struggle along the way to succeed like Genentech or fail like Theranos. This kind of stories helps me to think about my personal experience from another point of view.
Having said this, I read this book from cover to cover eagerly. Amaze by how Genentech made it work. Also, the importance of the need for fluent communication between researchers and business and how to overcome difficult times.
Sean Moran
May 16, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Detailed read on the history of Genentech from its most early foundation centered around conversations at a tavern to its historic IPO. Very enjoyable read that expanded my knowledge on the early days of restriction enzyme molecular biology. Genentech set the stage for the burgeoning biotech industry in the U.S. Overall it is a great read for anyone in the biomedical field, tech field or interested in translating biological findings into commercial products
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very engaging, finished it in one day. History of Genentech told in an exciting manner.
Jordan Olberding
Aug 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Good book for anyone interested in biotech. Took me a while to read, as does most non-fiction.
Md Jahangir Alam
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
great read. genesis of biotech industrial revolution.
Chris Fullenkamp
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Nice brief histroy of Genentech and the start of the biotech sector.
Oct 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a bit dry
Michael Knolla
Sep 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very concise summary of the early history of biotech that hits on all the salient points and generally knows when to dive into greater detail.
May 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Here I proudly wave my science nerd flag.

A tersely written history of the beginning of an epic biotechnology company, the first in the world, written by a highly esteemed science historian with expertise on Bay area scientists earned by interviewing them. Hughes probably knows more about Bay area life scientists than anyone and is presumably objective reporting her knowledge of these egoists. [To read some of the comprehensive interviews conducted by Hughes, see
Sep 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"Boyer and Swanson had utilized existing scientific teams and academic laboratories because in them resided the rare and requisite body of knowledge and technical expertise. But as they and Perkins recognized, the strategy had the additional advantage of paying off handsomely in money and time saved." (63)

"Swanson soon came to appreciate Boyer's publication policy, not because he had an impulse to instill academic values at Genentech or a driving wish to contribute to the progress of science. Ra
David Usharauli
Feb 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book by Sally Smith Hughes about the biotech pioneer company Genentech is a very good read. Strangely, it starts to captivate you and then suddenly it ends. Kind of positively disappointing.

For me as a scientist the most revealing part of the book was the role of Bob Swanson played in founding Genentech. He was a young man (only 28 years old), formerly a junior partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner & Perkins, but presently unemployed when he and UCSF scientist Herb Boyer decided to fo
Evan Snyder
Mar 07, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I had hoped to learn more about Genentech's founding and how the company set many of the corporate, academic, and legal expectations of other biotech companies today; however, this book mostly made me want to go to sleep. If you are interested in learning more about Genentech, but don't necessarily need to be privy to every step of every negotiation along the way, then I would recommend reading the Epilogue of this book and then moving on to something else.

One tidbit I took from Hughes' renditi
Aug 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A great history of biotech beginnings, following the story of a scientist, Boyer, and an entrepreneur, Swanson, and how they created an industry. Along the way, there are groundbreaking patents, cultural changes, molding of public perception, corporate acceptance.. Any student of the sciences would benefit from this book - no matter if one were to pursue an academic life, corporate life, or other. The fact that biotech has completely changed an academic biologist's life in that she must now cons ...more
Apr 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A very good book detailed with all kinds of stories for a genius biotech startup company. The success of an outstanding company requires so many factors. First it is the right time or you have to be the earliest to realize the practical future of your technology. Second, as a biotech startup, it needs people specialized in tech as well as market and venture capital. More importantly, it will largely benefit from the front line--the first hand experience scientist.

The book is mainly focusing on
Aaron Dy
Feb 01, 2020 rated it liked it
Very good book for anyone interested in the early history of molecular cloning and biotechnology. The access to interviews and corporate records gives a glimpse behind the scenes of the pioneering biotech company and what the day-to-day was like for the scientist and business people making Genentech's early success possible. This is probably not the book for you if you're not already inclined to be interested in the history of biotech, but a must read for those who do care about or work in biote ...more
Feb 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
I had heard about this book being a great synopsis of the founding of the biotech industry through the eyes of Genentech. It did not disappoint. While a bit longwinded in places, the story was riveting if you have ever worked in biotech or are interested in the subject. For me, it had the added advantage of giving me some perspective on working with Genentech employees, which continues to challenge me from a cultural perspective.
Aug 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is an inspriation book for an entrepreneur in any discipline, and for anyone who has big dreams and believes in the taking the 'off the beaten" path to get there. Sarah Hughes writes a beautiful piece where you really get to understand the founders of Genentech, there background and what drove them to put everything at stake in the name of recombinant DNA. A must read! ...more
Apr 17, 2015 rated it liked it
A great introduction to biotech and the background of how Genentech was started. For a non-scientist, I found the book easy to read and comprehend. There were parts that were certainly dry, but overall very interesting. I was disappointed that for a book that was published in 2011, it pretty much ended with the IPO. The epilogue left so much unexplained. It felt like it was stopped short.
Forest Tong
Dec 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Engaging account of the rise of biotech in the late 1970s and early 1980s through the story of Genentech. One fascinating part of this account is the unique relationship Genentech developed with both academia and large pharmaceuticals through contracting, setting a paradigm for dozens of other biotech companies.
Vladimir Chupakhin
Jun 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biz
Really interesting history about begging of biotech business. Not very big, but full of facts, science and bright characters that made the company profitable and famous. Must read for everyone interested in biotech and pharma history.
Divya Nag
Sep 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Great read for anyone who wants to go into, or is interested in, the world of biotechnology
Oct 28, 2012 rated it liked it
There was sometimes too much details for things that I didn't care about; the later years of Genentech's history was rushed through. ...more
Saket Saurabh
Jun 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Engaging account of an innovative company. Would have preferred if post IPO happenings would have also been included
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