Susan Desmond-Hellman is president for product development at Genentech. A former practicing oncologist, she joined the pioneering biotechnology company as a clinical scientist in 1995.
Tell us about Genentech.
Genentech is the first biotechnology company. We're 32 years old this year and we use the technical science called biotechnology to make medicines. The mission of the company is to meet unmet medical needs. We go after the really hard problems in medicine--things like cancer, cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus--and increasingly focus on diseases that many baby boomers are worried about, such as Alzheimer's disease.
What does it mean to be the first biotechnology company?
In the mid-'70s, recombinant DNA technology was co-discovered by Herb Boyer, one of the co-founders of Genentech, who was a biochemist at the University of California, and Stanley Cohen, who was at Stanford. This technology was thought to allow a company to be able to take living cells and make them into factories to produce medicines.
Genentech was started in 1976 based on this new technology, and the first product the company worked on and brought to market using this recombinant technology was human growth hormone.
So you use biological products as factories to …