February 2011

Eugene Goldwasser (1922 – 2010)

At the urging of colleagues and the federal agencies that funded his research, Goldwasser submitted a patent disclosure form to the university. Unfortunately, the school officials did not patent his discovery, and Goldwasser never followed up.

Many Midwestern companies also failed to take interest in Goldwasser’s findings, so he ended up sharing his results with a young biotech company called Applied Molecular Genetics (now Amgen). In 1985, a team from Amgen cloned the gene for erythropoietin using two probes derived from amino acid sequence analysis of Goldwasser’s purified human erythropoietin samples. A year later, production of the hormone was underway and in clinical trials. Amgen eventually became one of the world’s biggest biotech companies on the basis of sales of the protein under names like Epogen, Procrit and Aranesp, which brought in billions of dollars a year.

Nicole Kresge (nkresge@asbmb.org) is the editor of ASBMB Today.

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Gene Goldwasser's remarkable success exemplifies the importance of basic research and the great value of persistence in pursuit of goals. The NIH should take pride in the fact that it is their support of this kind of investigator-initiated fundamental work that has been key to breakthroughs like EPO that can transform medical care. The fact that billions of dollars were made by a biotech company is not as important as the fact that millions of patients with renal failure have lived longer, more productively and comfortably, as a consequence of the government's investment in our collective health via NIH and NSF.



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