GENE DREAMS: Wall Street, Academia, and the Rise of Biotechnology by Robert Teitelman

GENE DREAMS: Wall Street, Academia, and the Rise of Biotechnology

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Lucid and cautionary perspectives on why the widely hailed biotechnology revolution has become an evolution. Financial World editor Teitelman dates the emergence of the field (which is rooted in molecular biology) from the mid-1970's, when the so-called War on Cancer unleashed a flood of federal funds for construction of facilities and education programs. Within a few years, venture capitalists were anteing seed money for fledgling firms bent on commercializing a science that hitherto had been the virtually private preserve of universities, research institutes, and government laboratories. Once Genentech was taken public in 1980 and its shares bid up to levels that effectively discounted the hereafter, the gold rush was on in earnest. In the meantime, overenthusiastic journalists began spreading the news of cancer cures and allied miracles. In his often wry post-mortem, Teitelman sheds considerable light on why a long-cloistered science has failed to live up to the extravagant promises made on its behalf. His principal means is a case history of Genetic Systems, a Seattle-based start-up that had its first stock offering in mid-1981. Despite adequate financing, ties to a pharmaceuticals powerhouse (Syntex), entrepreneurial proprietors with impeccable academic credentials, and other assets, the company never quite managed to leverage diagnostic product lines into mass-market therapeutics. Nor did it come very close to deciphering the dread mysteries of malignant tumors, much less developing viable agents to arrest their lethal growth. During 1985, Genetic Systems was absorbed by Bristol-Myers, whose resources may or may not facilitate long-awaited breakthroughs. Teitelman has a welcome talent for putting scientific and Wall Street arcana--DNA, gene splicing, monoclonal antibodies, oncogenes, warrants, et al.--within reach of lay readers. His prose is also informed by light, clarifying touches. Noting that chemotherapy is not a magic bullet, for example, he characterizes it as ""more a sawed-off shotgun blasting down a dark alley."" A fine primer, then, on a subject of substantive socioeconomic significance.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1989
Publisher: Basic Books